Skip to main content

Full text of "Tin Can On A Shingle"

See other formats

' J_1 TTT1 ', '' 

, -. 



The Full Story*of the 
Monitor and the .IMierrimac 



Introduction by Henry Steete {,'omntager 

"The clay was 'March 9 ( 1862)," says 
Bruce Catton in V'/J/.r Hcillotred 
Gro/tnd, "memorable for the most 
momentous d ra wn ha 11 1 c i n ii is tory 
a battle that nobody won, but that 
made the navies of die world obso- 

This unique book records the full, story 
of that famed battle, of the crews that 
manned both gallant; ships and of the 
events which preceded and followed 
the conflict. 

"Just before dawn on April 12, 1861, 
in the harbor of Charleston, South 
Carolina, gunfire from Confederate 
batteries touched off the sweeping 
wildfire of civil war. It was to be a 
war of land campaigns s.-pJin^ men 
deep into the South past hitherto ob- 
scure towns: Chancel lorsvi lie, Man- 

{ Cout 'ijucd nn Vlup II ) 


Illustration "it j'trkcf front uscil hy tourtcsy 
The Mariner's Museum, Newport Ncw.s, V.i. 



public library 

kansas city, missouri 

Books will be issued only 

on presentation of library card, 
Please report lost cards and 

change of residence promptly. 
Card holders are responsible for 

all books, records, films, pictures 
or other library materials 
checked out on their cards. 





I DUaiN by William Chapman White 

and Ruth White 

With an Introduction by Henry Steele Commager 



NEW YORK 1957 

Copyright i$fj, by Ruth White 
All rights reserved. Printed in the USA. 


No part of this book may be reproduced 
in any form without permission in writing 
from the publisher, except by a reviewer 
who wishes to quote brief passages in con- 
nection with a review written for inclusion 
in magazine or newspaper or broadcasts. 

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 57-7604 

For Emma Morris 

New York, January 20, 1862 

Gustavtis V. Fox, 

Assistant Secretary of the Navy, 

Washington, D. C. 

Sir: In accordance 'with your request, I now submit -for 
your approbation a name -for the floating battery at Green- 
point. The Impregnable and aggressive character of this 
structure 'will admonish the leaders of the Southern Re- 
bellion that the batteries on the banks of their rivers f will 
no longer present harriers to the entrance of the Union 
forces. The iron-clad intruder ^will thus prove a severe 
monitor to those leaders. But there are other leaders who 
'will also be startled and admonished by the booming of the 
guns from the impregnable iron turret* ^Do f uming Street" 
'will hardly vie f w nxntb indifference this last "Yankee No- 
tion" this monitor. To the Lords of the Admiralty the 
ne<w craft 'will be a monitor, suggesting doubts as to the 
propriety of completing those four steel clad ships at three 
and a half million apiece. On these and many similar 
grounds, 1 propose to name the ne*w battery "Monitor" 

Your obedient servant , 
/. Ericsson 


March 9, 1862, was surely the most dramatic day of the 
American Civil War, and perhaps the most important as 
well. It was dramatic because it combined, in a unique 
degree, coincidence, chance, heroism, and beauty- it was 
important because, after one momentary glimpse of 
triumph it dropped the curtain on Confederate victory, 
and then lifted it to reveal not so much victory as a new 
chapter in the history of warf are. 

It was a little after noon of March 8 that the newly 
rebuilt ironclad, the Merrimac, proudly but briefly re- 
named the Virginia, .steamed down the Elizabeth River 
into the James, and upstream to Hampton Roads toward 
the fleet of frigates that were the pride of the Union navy, 
the Cumberland, the Congress, the Minnesota, and others. 
At about two o'clock the Merrimac turned her Dahlgren 
guns on the hapless Cumberland and then stabbed her to 
death with her iron ram and sent her to the bottom. Next 
she turned on the Congress, and within an hour that proud 
frigate was aflame from stem to stern. It was the first 
contest between iron and wood, and it changed the history 
of naval warfare, 

Late that afternoon the plucky Minnesota, the Roanoke, 
and the St. Lawrence hurried gallantly but desperately up 
to join the unequal fight; fortunately for them they arrived 
too late. When the Merrimac drew off to Norfolk it was 
with full confidence that the next day would see the de- 



struction of the entire Union fleet, awaiting its fate in the 
quiet waters of Hampton Roads. 

As for the Confederates in Norfolk and in Richmond, 
how their eyes must have dazzled, their hearts pounded, 
their imagination soared, as they contemplated the con- 
sequences of their momentous victory. The Union fleet 
destroyedwho could doubt that? Washington in danger, 
the blockade broken, foreign recognition and with it 
foreign help; victory in sight! 

But it was not to be. For at four o'clock that very after- 
noon a "little tin can on a shingle," battered and buffeted 
by a long struggle for life, came tumbling down from New 
York, turned her prow across Cape Henry and then 
through the Rip Raps and headed for the beleaguered Union 
fleet in Hampton Roads. At nine that night she dropped 
anchor alongside the little Roanoke. 

The historian looks coldly on coincidence, demanding 
of it more impressive credentials than are usually required 
for authentication. In one sense this timely arrival of the 
Monitor was one of the striking coincidences of history; 
in another sense it was no coincidence at all but the fruit 
of long planning and desperate effort. For months, Secre- 
tary Welles had bent his energies to the construction of 
an ironclad to hold her own with the one he knew the 
Confederates were building at Norfolk; for three months, 
dour John Ericsson had worked day and night at the 
Greenpoint Navy Yard in Brooklyn, assailed by daily 
telegrams for speed and yet more speed. Yet not until 
February 19 had Ericsson delivered his ironclad to the 
Navy Yard; not until the 25th was she commissioned; and 
her voyage to the seat of battle was for all practical pur- 
poses her maiden voyage; it was that close a thing! She had 
been built just in the nick of time; she had fought her way 
down the stormy coast and reached her destination, just 

Introduction ix 

in the nick of timenot in time to save the Congress and 
the Cumberland, but in time to save the rest of the Union 
fleet and perhaps the Union as well 

No wonder this battle of the ironclads is the darling not 
only of those who want their history melodramatic, but of 
those, too, who dwell lovingly on the "ifs" of history. No 
sensible historian really believes that for want of a nail a 
kingdom was lost, but the story of this famous encounter 
might almost persuade him that this could happen. If Cor- 
nelius Bushnell had not known both Secretary Welles and 
the lonely and difficult John Ericsson and been able to bring 
them together, in time; if Ericsson had not been able to win 
over a reluctant Ironclad Board, in time; if he had not had 
plans for an ironclad all ready from an earlier venture in 
1854; if orders directing the Monitor to make for the 
Potomac had not come just two hours after the vessel had 
put to sea; if the two fierce storms that beat her and 
threatened to submerge her had not abated, just in time 
if any of these, the Monitor would not have reached 
Hampton Roads on the night of the 8th, and the course of 
history might have been changed. 

And yet, who knows! it is one of the many virtues of 
William C. and Ruth White's book that they do not 
indulge in idle speculation, or claim overmuch for the 
spectacular event that they chronicle, but allow each 
reader to bemuse himself with possibilities. Secretary 
Stanton was sure that a successful Merrimac would not 
only destroy the Union fleet, but Washington as well, and 
perhaps all the other coastal cities, and he was all but ready 
to concede defeat. But Stanton was hysterical. We know 
now what the Confederate Captains Buchanan and Tatt- 
nall knew at the time that the Merrimac was not really 
seaworthy, that she could not have destroyed Fort Monroe, 
or withstood the battering of the Atlantic waves, that she 

v Introduction 


drew too much draft to ascend the Potomac, that Washing- 
ton and Philadelphia and New York were safe. 

But did the North know this? And suppose even the 
most limited results: the wooden boats of the Union de- 
stroyed, Hampton Roads and the James River open, the 
blockade pierced if not broken, and foreign goods pouring 
in. With the rupture of the blockade, even temporarily, 
might Gladstone have persuaded Her Majesty's govern- 
ment to act on his assumption that Jefferson Davis had 
made not only an army and a navy but a nation as well? 

We need not beguile ourselves with speculations about 
what might have happened; it is enough to note what did 
happen. Other battles of the Civil War~~Vick$burg, 
Gettysburg, the Wilderness-might have been more con- 
sequential for the outcome of that war, but none had such 
far reaching consequences for warfare in general It is 
hackneyed but still valid to say that the battle in Hampton 
Roads revolutionized naval warfare. Granted that the 
ironclad was already on the way, that Napoleon HI boasted 
La Gloire and Queen Victoria The Warrior, and that the 
United States Navy was already brooding over the poten- 
tialities of ironclads, yet it was this battle that dramatized 
the whole thing and that enormously hastened new navies 
and new naval races everywhere. 

This is a story that lends itself not only to dramatics 
but to rhetoric, exaggeration, and sensationalism. The 
authors have told it modestly and judiciously, knowing 
well that it does not need to be dressed up in the tricks of 
rhetoric. They have not permitted themselves to be the 
champion of either the Union or the Confederacy, but 
find glory enough for both. They do not exaggerate 
Ericsson's originality in designing the Monitor, nor do the 
Whites fail to make clear that the neglected and abused 
Ericsson was a great inventor and a great patriot, They 

Introduction xi 

hold nicely the balance between the claims of both Merri- 
mac and Monitor and do not require that either ship per- 
form what it could not. It is clear that the story of the 
Merrimac and Monitor appealed to William C. White and 
his wife not for its excitement alone but for simpler and 
more enduring qualities. The men who fought these ships 
were not conscious of History or of Destiny; they were 
simple men who did their duty. They endured terrible 
hardships; faced problems, and solved them under stagger- 
ing difficulties; they fought gallantly and suffered griev- 
ously; in the end they saw their ships destroyed; and they 
did not quarrel or complain. 

Mr. and Mrs. White cut through the glory and the 
rhetoric and the controversy to this elementary integrity. 
The book which William C. White has left us and which 
was completed by his widow bears the stamp of that 
integrity and of his own as well. 




/ The paper, and the ship 3 

// The Secretary without a Navy 13 

/// Ironclads, and a not-too-barnacled Board 19 

IV John Ericsson, inventor 25 

V The floating battery at Greenpoint 34 

VI The captain, and the crew 43 

VII Rumors, -false and true 50 

VIII The "Yankee Notion" goes south 56 

IX Black cloud on the horizon 62 

X The battle, and the victory 72 

XI "Worst day of the War 7 ' 78 

XII The Monitor y and the Merrimac 84 

XIII The pigmy, and the giant 95 

XIV The ships, and the legends 104 
XV Mr. Lincoln takes a trip 115 

XVI "Admiral-General Lincoln" 125 

XVII The Monitor, and Merrimac II 137 

XVIII The Monitor men, and the sea 141 
XIX The battle over the Battle, and the "highway 

of mankind" 152 

XX The Monitor, and the Victory 163 

A cknoiuledgments 1 68 

Bibliography 169 

Index 171 



Remodeling the Merrimac i 8 

The original Monitor 1 8 

John Ericsson in 186$ 19 

Ericsson's <work room 19 

Franklin Buchanan 50 

John Lorimer Worden 50 

Sa?nuel Dana Qreene 50 

Catesby ap R. Jones 50 
Map of the scene of battle and of the route of the 

Monitor 5 1 

Vie<ws of the Monitor 1 14 

Deck view of the Monitor 115 

A part of the Monitor's crew 115 

The battle at close range 146 

The sinking of the Monitor 147 

Map Front End paper 



/; The paper, and the ship 

Just before dawn on April 12, 1861, in the harbor of 
Charleston, South Carolina, gunfire from Confederate bat- 
teries touched off the sweeping wildfire of civil war. It was 
to be a war of land campaigns sending men deep into the 
South past hitherto obscure towns: Chancellorsville, Manas- 
sas, Games' Mill, Chickamauga, Milledgeville, Appomattox. 
The history of the Civil War rings with their names and 
with the steady beat of marching armies. 

But one ship, and one document, were to have as much to 
do with the winning of that war as any land brigade. The 
ship was the US Ironclad Monitor. The document was 
signed by Abraham Lincoln on April 19, one week after 
Fort Sumter fell. 

On that date, the ship existed only as a small, black card- 
board model of an ironclad, scorned as an impractical brain 
child of an erratic inventor, John Ericsson. The document 
proclaimed a blockade of the seceding Southern states: 

"Now, therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the 
United States . . . have further deemed it advisable to set on 
foot a blockade of the ports ... in pursuance of the laws of 
the United States and of the Law of Nations in such cases 

The words of Mr. Lincoln's proclamation were sober 
and couched in the prim and precise phrases of international 


4 Tin Ca?i on a Shingle 

law. They provided that any foreign ship that attempted 
to approach the harbors of the seceding states was liable to 
seizure, that foreign ships bound for enemy ports could be 
confiscated on the high seas, that any attempt of the seced- 
ing states to run the blockade could result in the capture of 
the vessels involved, 

Mr. Lincoln did more than "set on foot" a blockade; his 
proclamation put into motion forces that would bring to 
pass one of the grimmest, bloodiest slaughters in all mari- 
time history, the battle of March 8, 1862, in Hampton 
Roads, Virginia. 

Mr. Lincoln knew that his proclamation of a blockade 
could mean death by economic strangulation to the South 
and to Southern hopes. The wealth of the seceding states 
was largely in millions of dollars worth of cotton that was 
stored in Southern warehouses, awaiting shipment abroad. 
Manufactured products from foreign markets were needed 
desperately by the agricultural South. The Confederacy 
hoped, and the North feared, that this intertwining of inter- 
ests would bring about foreign intervention. The Federals 
knew that it must be prevented at all cost. 

But the proclamation of the blockade had in it one tre- 
mendous flaw. The universally accepted law that had been 
set down in 1856 by the Declaration of Paris stipulated that 
"a blockade to be binding, must be effective"; the initiating 
nation must have enough ships to maintain it. For the 
North this meant guarding more than 3,000 miles of coast- 
line, uncounted islands and inlets, and 189 harbors, ports 
and river entrances. 

For that job there were on hand on April 19, r86r, 
exactly three usable vessels: the Pawnee, the Mohawk, and 
the Crusader. Three vessels to police the coast from Hamp- 
ton Roads, in Virginia, to the tip of Florida, around the 

The paper, and the ship $ 

Gulf and down the coast of Texas to the Rio Grande! 

The duty of setting up the operation in some fashion fell 
to the Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles, of Hartford, 
Connecticut. This newspaper publisher, a politician by 
long practice and preference, was without naval experience, 
but that has never been a compulsory requirement for Sec- 
retaries of the Navy. He may not have known bow from 
stern, as Mr. Lincoln said, but he knew that an effective 
blockade needed ships, and needed them immediately. 

When Secretary Welles examined the Navy List, he 
found ninety ship entries, few enough for a blockade if all 
had been usable and available. Ten of these were fine old 
ships-of-the-line, sailing vessels that had been famous and 
fearsome in their day. But of these the Vermont was the 
only one still in service. Nine others were employed as 
receiving ships, or were under repair in Navy Yards. They 
were excellent as training ships for young sailors or as im- 
pressive sights against a harbor sunset and that was all. 
Forty other sailing frigates, sloops, and brigs would be 
useless against steam-driven blockade runners or blockade 
breakers, worse than useless in any pursuit into shallow 
waters and riverways. 

Of the forty steam-powered ships in the Navy, six frig- 
ates with auxiliary steam power had been launched in 1855 
and 1856. They were the Merrimac, W abash, Minnesota, 
Roanoke, Colorado and Niagara. These vessels, each 
mounting 40 guns, were "the pride of the Navy ... re- 
garded as the highest and most perfect type of the men-of- 
war of the period." But they were no help to the put-upon 
Gideon Welles: in April 1861, they, too, and other smaller 
vessels were laid up for repair. Two of the sister ships are 
of particular interest to this chronicle: the Minnesota, and 
the Merrimac. 

Twenty-four other ships were in commission but 

Tin Can on a Shingle 

twenty-one of these were on various oversea duties. The 
remainder, no matter how the Secretary of the Navy 
counted it, was always the same: only three immediately 
nsable ships in Northern ports. 

The shortage of ships was not the only problem that con- 
fronted Secretary Welles. With no provisions for retire- 
ment in those days, men stayed on in the Navy until they 
died. Promotion from below, by seniority, was slow. All 
of the top officers had been trained in sailing ships; many 
looked on steam, first introduced in 1842, as something to 
be feared more than the enemy. Some of them and dis- 
tinguished officers were among them had had their first 
naval training in the War of 1812; others had served thirty- 
five years without ever having fired a shot except in practice 
or ceremonial. Handsome men they were in their long 
coats of navy blue, but many were as outdated as the 
gallant ships they served. 

Officers who "went South" created another hindrance to 
the building of the blockade. Of the 856 commissioned 
officers on the 1861 roster, 321 resigned to join the Con- 
federacy. The shortage of young officers with command 
experience was serious; lack of manpower in the noncom- 
missioned ratings was even more acute. The complement 
of the Navy had been set at 7,500 but that number was not 
filled. New vessels might be commissioned and put into 
service in a few months but, apart from those men already 
serving on ships in commission, there were just 207 seamen 
in all the ports to man any additions to the United States 

In this crisis, the Navy Department did what it could. It 
issued a call for volunteers that was widely answered. It 
turned out all the midshipmen at Annapolis, even those 
with just one year's training, and gained that many new 
men in the officer corps. It bought or chartered at fancy 

The paper, and the ship 7 

profiteering prices ferryboats, tugboats, oysterboats, coal- 
barges. Anything half seaworthy that could be fitted with 
guns was acquired for "Welles' Soap Box Fleet." 

The Secretary and his advisers decided that it was impos- 
sible to legalize a blockade of the entire coast; they there- 
fore limited the operation to selected harbors. As more 
ships returned from foreign duty or became available, the 
blockade could be slowly increased. More than six hun- 
dred vessels would be involved at the end of the war. But 
in April 1 86 1 there was only a sufficient number to be 
stationed at Charleston, Savannah, along the Gulf Coast, 
Pensacola, Key West and, most important of all, Hampton 

No more handsome harbor existed than this magnificent 
roadstead where Chesapeake Bay meets not only the Atlan- 
tic but the mouths of three Virginia rivers. Today it is a 
beautiful and bustling seaway, the east-coast rendezvous 
of the United States Navy. Its broad expanse is dotted with 
warships and cruisers, with tugboats and barges, with tramp 
steamers and fishing boats, elegant yachts and small pleasure 
craft. Many persons cross it on large, white and shining 
ferries. They rarely think of its sparkling waters as having 
once been littered with the shattered remnants of wooden 
vessels, or dyed with the blood of men who defended gal- 
lant ships. 

Hampton Roads provides a complex bit of geography 
and is best understood by reference to a map. Cape Charles, 
on the tip of the "MarDelVa" (Maryland-Delaware-Vir- 
ginia) Peninsula, to the north, and Cape Henry on the 
Virginia mainland to the south, guard the entrance to 
Chesapeake Bay, giving access to the Potomac River, to 
Washington and to Baltimore. Southwesterly lies the ir- 
regularly shaped Hampton Roads. Since 1819, Fort 
Monroe, at Virginia's Old Point Comfort, has guarded the 

8 Tin Ctm on a Shingle 

northern shore. Westward by 6/ 2 miles lies Newport 
News, Fort Calhoun, incomplete when the Civil War 
began, was soon finished on a small shoal 3*4 miles off the 
shore from Old Point. It is now called Fort Wool in honor 
of the Union commander of the Virginia Department. But 
in the i86o's it was known as the Rip Raps, for the sound 
of the water that lapped at its shore. On the south were 
swamps and inlets that have been reclaimed for the site of 
the present day United States Naval Operating Base at 

Pouring into Hampton Roads are three rivers: the Nan- 
semond; the James, giving access to Richmond; and two 
branches of the Elizabeth, one leading to the heart of Nor- 
folk. Across the Elizabeth, on the site of what is now the 
shipyard at Portsmouth, was the important pre-Civil War 
Navy Yard at Gosport, Norfolk on the south and New- 
port News on the north look out over a superb view of a 
harbor 10 miles wide. 

It was here that the Monitor and the Merrimac would 
clash in a battle that was later called one of the most deci- 
sive in naval history. 

As the Civil War began, the North held all of the Atlan- 
tic Coast down to Chesapeake Bay and the northern shore 
of Hampton Roads. Fort Monroe had recently been 
strengthened and was not likely to fall into the hands of 
the Confederates. But one problem was uppermost: hold- 
ing the Gosport Navy Yard for the Union if Virginia 
decided to secede. 

When Abraham Lincoln took the oath of office on 
March 4, 1861, seven states had already withdrawn from 
the United States. South Carolina went first, on December 
20, 1860; Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana 

The paper, and the ship $ 

and Texas followed in turn. Virginia delayed action over 
tense and uncertain weeks. 

Virginia's hesitation was only one of the harassing prob- 
lems that President Lincoln had inherited from his pre- 
decessor, James Buchanan, but it was of vital importance. 
At the Gosport Navy Yard were precious supplies, ammu- 
nition, Dahlgren guns, and mighty Union ships, among 
them the proudest and finest, the Merrimac. 

The Merrimac had been commissioned at the Boston 
Navy Yard in December 1855. To impress the world with 
American prowess in shipbuilding she had been sent abroad, 
and then on a prolonged tour of the West Indies and 
around the Horn to the Pacific. In the harbor of Rio de 
Janeiro, she happened to meet her sister ship, the Minne- 
sota^ and another, the Congress, and received their friendly 
salutes. The three ships did not come together again until 
they met in combat on March 8, 1862, in Hampton Roads. 

Of the six sisters the Merrimac was the most graceful, 
2^75 feet long, a lovely thing afloat. She had been built 
of seasoned live-oak frames especially adaptable to skill- 
ful molding for beauty and economy of line. She was 
"fast and handy under sail." Handsome to the eye and 
a joy to her crew, the Merrimac^s beauty did not satisfy 
her engineers: from the beginning her Chief Engineer, 
Alban C. Stimers, complained that her power was inade- 
quate for her 3,500 tons. On a later day, Stimers' assistant, 
H. Ashton Ramsay, chose to "go South" to his first assign- 
ment in the Confederate Navy in charge of the Merrimac's 
engines. Stimers, loyal to the Union, would be aboard the 
Monitor in battle. In less than one year, the former asso- 
ciates were destined to occupy posts on two vessels opposed 
in deadly combat. 

Late in 1860 the Merrimac proceeded to the Gosport 

ic Tin Can on a Shingle 

Yard for repairs to her engines. With tragic lack of fore- 
sight, the Navy Department had ordered her to a Virginia 
shipyard. Early in April anxious queries came from Wash- 
ington, prompted by concern over Virginia's threatening 
secession: how speedily could the Merrimac be put into 
condition for transfer to the Philadelphia Navy Yard? 

The question was not an easy one for Gosport's elderly 
Commodore McCauley to answer. Under his command, 
officers who were secretly sympathetic to the South had 
no wish to speed the Merrmmc from Southern waters. 
They reported that her repair could not be completed for 
several weeks. Commodore McCauley was loyal to the 
Union: none of his fellow officers ever questioned that. 
Welles later said of him: "He was faithful, but feeble, in- 
competent for the crisis." The Navy Department ordered 
to Virginia its chief engineer, Benjamin Franklin Isher- 
wood; in three days, the Merrmmc was ready, 

Virginia passed the Ordinance of Secession on April 17, 
but did not formally join the Confederacy for eight addi- 
tional days. The Merrimac could have steamed for Phila- 
delphia on April 1 8, but McCauley could not rise above his 
own bewilderment, confusion and fear. His indecision was 
aggravated by a Confederate stratagem, 

William Mahone, president of the Norfolk and Peters- 
burg Railroad, ordered his trains to shuttle in and out of 
the Norfolk Station. He loaded them with civilians who 
had been instructed to whoop and cheer and shout upon 
arrival. The bellicose din they created at the station was 
heard at the not-too-distant Navy Yard, McCauley fell 
into the trap. Misinterpreting the clamor as an indication 
of the influx of thousands of Confederate troops, he was 
convinced that he could not hold the Yard against them. 
He was further distraught over contradictory orders that 
had been issued by Washington. One set urged the imme- 

The paper, and the ship 1 1 

diate removal of the Merrimac from potential enemy terri- 
tory; another cautioned against any hostile act that might 
project Virginia into the Confederacy. 

On April 20, while McCauley still debated, the Union 
steam sloop-of-war, Pawnee, arrived at Gosport. Aboard 
her, Captain Hiram Paulding carried orders from the Navy 
Department to destroy all public property that could not 
be removed and, if need be, abandon a ruined Yard to the 
Confederacy. The wrecking crews worked swiftly. They 
sank or partially destroyed the Pennsylvania, Delaware 
and Columbus, three venerable ships-of-the-line; the frig- 
ates Columbia and Raritan; the sloops-of-war Gennantoiun 
and 'Plymouth; and the Dolphin, a brig. A petty officer 
and a detachment from the sailing sloop Cumberland 
boarded the Merrimac and opened her sea valves. Navy 
buildings and workshops roared into flames that spread to 
the stately masts of the sinking Merrimac. Captain Paul- 
ding ordered that guns, ammunition and supplies, anything 
that could be moved, be hastily loaded aboard the Cumber- 
land. Toward morning, she was towed safely across the 
Roads by the Pawnee. 

On another day, the Merrimac would even scores with 
the Cumberland. In less than a year the roles of the two 
ships would be reversed, but on this April day of 1861, the 
proud, the lovely and cantankerous Merrimac was the 

Unhappily for the North, its plan to destroy the aban- 
doned Navy Yard failed. The Confederates entered in 
time to extinguish the fires and smother a bomb that had 
been intended to blow up the drydock. Without firing a 
shot, they took one of the best yards in the country, along 
with 1,185 cannons and precious gunpowder and other 
supplies and stores which the South would have had diffi- 
culty procuring elsewhere. 

iz Tin Can on a Shingle 

The Commissioner of the State of Virginia, having made 
an inventory of the seized property, summed up its mean- 
ing to the Confederate cause: "The Navy Depot outfitted 
coastland defenses and inland camps. We are wholly in- 
debted for our means of resistance to Northern loss and the 
acquisition of the Gosport Yard." 

The loss of the Yard was one of the great Northern 
tragedies of the early days of the Civil War. There were 
those who said that its ships and stores could have been 
safely removed to Federal territory; others believed that 
the base might have been defended and held. McCauIey's 
indecision and a bomb that failed to explode would cost 
the North millions of dollars and an untold number of 

Lost by the North, seemingly forever useless to the 
South, the Merrimac and her engines lay under brackish 
waters on the sticky mud bottom of the Elizabeth River, 
the first naval casualty of the war. 

II: The Secretary without a Navy 

In April 1861, Stephen Russell Mallory found himself in 
a new job. For ten years he had been a United States 
Senator from Florida, and a Chairman of the Committee on 
Naval Affairs. A genial and pleasant lawyer, with many 
friends, he had taken an interest in everything that per- 
tained to the Navy. Among Mallory's friends was Jefferson 
Davis; his closest ties were with the South. As a result, he 
had joined the Confederate side and now, a few weeks 
later, found himself Secretary of the Confederate Navy. 

Secretary Welles in Washington had problems, but time 
would solve many of them. Secretary Mallory's perplexi- 
ties seemed insoluble; he was Secretary without a Navy and 
with almost no factories or yards for building one. The 
opening of hostilities had found f ew war vessels in southern 
ports. The Confederates at Pensacola succeeded in captur- 
ing the Fulton^ a 30-year-old side-wheeler, and they had 
what was left of the Merrimac. A few small ships revenue 
cutters, lighthouse tenders and sailing vessels completed 
the haul. That was the Confederate Navy. 

Though President Lincoln's proclamation of a blockade 
was yet a paper one, Mallory knew that in time it could 
bring about the death rattle of the Confederacy. The Con- 
federate Navy was completely outnumbered by the 
North's mighty wooden ships and powerful guns, Stephen 
Mallory, less conservative than officials in the Union Navy, 
aware of experiments being made abroad in the building of 

Ij 4 Tin Can on a Shingle 

armored ships, proposed the construction of an ironclad. 

Therefore, one of Secretary Mallory's first official acts 
after the Confederate Government settled in Richmond 
on May 29, 1 86 1 with the war not yet two months 
O ld__ wa s to urge a bold decision upon the Confederate 
Naval Committee: "I regard the possession of an iron- 
armored ship as a matter of the first necessity. Such a 
vessel at this time could traverse the entire coast of the 
United States, prevent all blockade, and encounter, with a 
fair prospect of success, their entire Navy. If ... we 
follow their example and build wooden ships, we shall have 
to construct several at a time. . . . But inequality of num- 
bers may be compensated by invulnerability. Thus not 
only does economy, but naval success, dictate the wisdom 
and expediency of fighting with iron against wood, without 
regard to cost." 

That was remarkably foresighted. But Mallory was not 
clairvoyant enough to predict how ill-equipped Southern 
mills might roll the plates for an armored ship, or where he 
could procure the engines to give one power. 

Mallory, well informed on European maritime trends, 
knew that France and England had for many years been 
experimenting with armored ships; early in May Captain 
James Bullock was sent abroad to investigate the pos- 
sibility of ordering a British-built ironclad. The problem 
of whether one could be assembled somewhere in the 
nonindustrial South was turned over to a group of naval 

Mallory's interest in ironclads placed him far ahead of 
the officials of the United States Navy, Their apathy 
toward the ideas that were being explored by foreign navies 
was not willful negligence; it was simply a reflection of the 
trend of America's interests in the 1840'$ and 1850'$, 
The nation's imagination, quickening to the expansion of a 

The Secretary without a Navy 15 

vast continent, was stirred by iron locomotives not iron 
battleships. A young country with untold wealth waiting 
in the West had no thought for conquest toward the East, 
nor for any attack that might come from that direction. 
Many ideas for ironclads had been submitted to the Navy 
Department in the decade that preceded the Civil War; 
receipts for them were signed, the sketches were filed and 
promptly forgotten. One of these, complacently pigeon- 
holed, was of the basic concept that was later employed for 
the reconversion of the South's first ironclad, the Merrimac. 

It had been submitted by a native of Portsmouth, Vir- 
ginia, John L. Porter, who was later stationed at Gosport 
when that Navy Yard fell to the Confederates. Porter 
stayed on with the South. He dusted off the model of his 
invention and carried it hopefully, on June 23, 1861, to the 
office of the Confederate Navy Department in Richmond. 
He was well received. 

Secretary Mallory at once arranged a meeting for Porter 
with two of his naval advisors: William P. Williamson, an 
expert on engines; and John Mercer Brooke, a native of 
Florida, an Annapolis graduate and inventor of the Brooke 

The three consultants knew that whatever plan they 
decided upon would be limited by what was expedient; 
regardless of the sort of ironclad they might wish, where 
could they find engines for her? It was Williamson who 
suggested the answer: take the engines from the Merrimac. 
She had been raised on May 30, 1861, and was now in 
drydock, her hull seemingly undamaged. She had been 
rechristened the Virginia, the name that appears in many 
Southern accounts of her exploits. But the alliterative 
association of her original name with that of her famous rival, 
the Monitor, has brought her down through history as the 

1 6 Tin Can on a Shingle 

Williamson's suggestion led inevitably to the next idea: 
convert the Merrimac whzt was left of herinto? an iron- 
clad and thereby save time that was vital to the Southern 
cause. The consultants returned to Mallory with their 
proposal. Whether Brooke or Porter thought of it first 
was argued by them and their descendants long after the 
last gun of the Civil War was fired. Probably all three 
experts contributed to the plan. It was simply to take 
what was left of the Merrimac, cut her down to the water- 
line and build on the berth deck a i6o-foot superstructure 
framed in thick oak and pine. This would be the Mcrri- 
mac's gundeck. Resembling a mansard roof, it would slant 
at an angle of 35 and be topped by a grating of 2 -inch 
iron bars. The whole would be encased with metal plates 
of a thickness to be determined by experiment. The 
Merrimac would be a heavy vessel, with a deep draft to 
accommodate two 2-cylinder engines, 4 Martin-type boilers, 
ventilators, and a crew of 350. An encircling shield of iron, 
3 inches wide, would protect her wooden hull below the 
waterline. A smokestack would rise from the center of 
the grating to complete a low, ugly, menacing vessel The 
Merrimac would not be beautiful, but beauty was not her 
purpose. The South was well informed on Washington 
plans and knew that no vessel existed in the Union Navy to 
stand up to her. 

Mallory, pressed by the tightening grip of the blockade, 
eager to spring the trap of encirclement, was gratified by 
the plan that was presented to him by his committee of 
three. On July i r, he sent an order to Flag Officer French 
Forrest, at Norfolk: "You will proceed with all practical 
despatch to make changes in the Merrimac and to build, 
equip, and fit her in all respects, according to the designs 
and plans of the constructor and engineer, Messrs- Porter 
and Williamson. As time is of the utmost importance in 

The Secretary without a Navy 77 

this matter, you will see that the work progresses without 
delay to completion." 

Though his instructions do not mention the name of 
Brooke, Secretary Mallory later credited Brooke with the 
honor of the whole concept and a Confederate patent was 
issued in Brooke's name. Porter, who was the better drafts- 
man, went ahead on the needed sketches. He then took up 
the work of supervising construction while Brooke at- 
tended to the preparation of the plates and ordnance. 

Mallory assigned as an assistant to Brooke a young Vir- 
ginian with the odd and proud name of Catesby ap R. 
Jones. The cryptic "ap" was a Welsh derivative signifying 
"son of." The Catesby who became a midshipman at 
fifteen, in 1836, was thus the son of Roger, and nephew 
of Thomas ap Catesby, in a Virginia genealogy of proud 
Navy men. On his mother's side, Catesby Jones was a 
grandnephew of Lighthorse Harry Lee. With that herit- 
age, it was inevitable that Catesby ap R. Jones would "go 
South" in 1 86 1, He would also relish a good fight; later, 
when he became executive officer of the Merrimac, he did. 

Jones was the logical choice to assist Brooke in decisions 
about armor and ordnance. In 1856 he had helped install 
Dahlgren guns on the newly launched Merrimac. The in- 
ventor, Captain John A. Dahlgren, considered him one of 
the few men with sufficient knowledge to supervise the 
installations. In being assigned to the Merrimac a second 
time, Lieutenant Jones was in a sense going home. He 
would stay with her now, through her rebuilding, and her 
Battle, and serve as her only executive officer until the end 
of her days. 

Conversion proceeded as swiftly as the limited resources 
of the South would allow. The only mill that could make 
the necessary armor plate was the Tredegar Iron Works in 
Richmond and it had much other war work to do. No one 

1 8 Tin Can on a Shingle 

knew how thick the plates should be, so the efficient son 
of Roger Jones was detailed to make tests. After firing at 
various targets he decided that ^ layers of plate, each 2 
inches thick, made an armor that might be cracked but 
would protect its wooden backing. The plates would be 
put on with countersunk bolts to make a smooth surface. 

As the plates were being rolled at Richmond, construc- 
tion went on at Gosport. The iron was rushed by rail over 
the 100 miles from the Confederate capital, as it was ready. 
By the end of July, 1,500 workmen labored around the 
clock at both the Navy Yard and the Tredegar Works. 
Their speed quickened in proportion to the South's ap- 
prehension growing out of rumors that anticipated an 
arrival, on the York Peninsula, of the Union's General 
George B. McCIellan, on the first stage of a dreaded 
advance on Richmond. 

Secretary Mallory could be pleased. He would have the 
ironclad he wanted, a ship of a sort never before seen on 
any sea. Better yet, there was no sign of the North, with 
all its industrial wealth and acumen, having anything to 
meet her, or of even knowing what dread secret was being 
readied in the South, 


-S 1 ** 

'I "he room in which Ericsson 
worked for 25 year*. 

///: Ironclads, and a not-too-barnacled Board 

Naval experts in Washington may not have known at 
that time of the Merrimac, but they were as familiar as. 
anyone in Richmond with foreign progress on ironclads. 
They, too, were in need of ships, but deliberated long over 
the use of iron. Designs were pulled from old files. New 
ones were examined. But the Navy authorities, although 
they spoke constantly of the need for action, were unwill- 
ing to put energy and funds into untried models. 

"Whenever men of the Union Navy gathered, talk was of 
iron ships, as though such things had never existed. Yet the 
use of iron vessels was not new. Ships of ancient Greece 
carried lead plates for defense; Norsemen strengthened their 
wooden hulls with strips of iron and bronze; Da Vinci 
experimented with armored models. Even the sixteenth- 
century Koreans had introduced an iron-plated turtle- 
back deck that could not be damaged by arrows, bullets 
or fire. 

From our own War of 1812 came a plan, by John 
Stevens of Hoboken, for a round floating battery covered' 
with iron plates. Anchored at a river or harbor entrance, it 
was designed to revolve by steam-driven propellers so that 
each gun could be turned on the enemy in order. In 1814, 
Thomas Gregg of Pennsylvania patented his idea for a shot- 
proof, steam-run floating battery whose sides sloped at an, 
angle that would deflect enemy fire. 


20 Tin Can on a Shingle 

The nineteenth century had already seen more changes 
in shipbuilding, particularly in the construction of vessels 
powered by steam, than the preceding four hundred years. 
The transformation began with Robert Fulton in iSoy-and 
a paddle-wheeler that was steam driven. The Clermonts 
maiden voyage, on September 4, startled its passengers by 
its speed as well as its price of $7 a ticket. The steamer 
raced, nonstop at 5 miles an hour, up the Hudson from 
New York City to Clermont, no miles away. In 1815, 
Fulton built a steam-propelled "warship/ 7 intended, but 
never used, for the defense of New York City. It boasted 
two hulls with a paddle wheel in the middle. 

The British put steam into a ship with one hull for the 
first time in 1821. The first steam-powered warships, de- 
vised by the British and copied by the French, were paddle- 
wheelers, heavy and unwieldy, hard to handle. Their need 
to carry fuel as well as machinery made them clumsy, but 
they could outmaneuver sailing vessels. The screw pro- 
peller which John Ericsson and an Englishman, Francis 
Pettit Smith, developed independently in 1837 enabled 
shipbuilders to put engines below the water line. 

During the Crimean War the French employed three 
small ironclads to attack Russian land fortifications; the 
ships stood up well. John Ericsson, with traditional Scan- 
dinavian hatred of Russians, sent Napoleon III a model, 
armored and with a movable turret, very like the future 
Monitor. France's Emperor acknowledged the submission, 
but did not adopt the design. He approved, instead, plans 
for the Gloire, an armored ship with displacement of 5,6 1 7 
tons and a speed of 1 1 knots. Nothing that the English had 
could match her; they proceeded at once to try to surpass 
the Gloire, as did other nations. 

By that time, nearly one hundred armored vessels of 
various sizes were being built in European ports. But men 

Ironclads, and a not-too-barnacled Board 21 

in the top ranks of the United States Navy, who had been 
trained on wooden men-of-war, scoffed at ironclads be- 
cause they were "new and untried." They resisted the 
thought of bolting plates to the sides of their lovely ships 
and asked, "Did you ever see a piece of iron float?" And 
they were silent at the answer: "Did you ever see an iron 
dipper float atop a keg of water?" 

Prior to the Civil War, the world's naval constructors 
were convinced, if the sea captains were not, that the day 
of the wooden warship had come to an end. They were 
saying: "The time for line-of-battle ships is over. They 
will be no match for the heavily armored, fast, ironclad 
frigates. No ships constructed on the old system are 
capable of sustaining fifteen minutes fight with one of these 
invulnerable monsters without being blown to pieces." 
Meanwhile, "one of these invulnerable monsters" was rap- 
idly talcing form in the South. 

The American Navy had taken one forward step with 
the invention of the Dahlgren gun that was installed on 
many United States vessels in the 1850*8. It was a powerful 
weapon: bottle shaped, with thickened metal where the 
pressure of exploding gases was greatest. It could fire either 
shell or solid shot. However, the Navy Department, fearful 
perhaps of its own progress, ordered that only 15 pounds, 
of powder could be used for any shot from the Dahlgren 
gun. The men aboard the Monitor in battle would have 
reason to protest that inflexible rule, for it was later found 
that Captain Dahlgren's gun could handle 30, even 50, 
pounds of powder. 

Naval architects, wary of any innovation in ordnance or 
ship design, further questioned the efficiency of iron ships. 
While men in Richmond and Norfolk were drawing plansr 
and rushing to completion a mighty iron war-machine, 
their opposite numbers in Washington talked and argued. 

22 Tin Can on a Shingle 

and issued no specific orders; worse yet, they arrived at no 

In early June of 1861, Secretary Welles reported to Con- 
gress on the state of the Navy, stressing the need to order 
"one or more ironclad steamers or floating batteries to be 
constructed with a view to perfect protection from the 
effects of present ordnance at close range." He ^recom- 
mended that a competent board of experts be appointed to 
investigate the matter of ironclads. 

After three weeks of seemingly endless debate, Congress 
agreed with the Secretary. It was decided that if a board of 
experts reported favorably on any plan, the Navy could 
spend up to $1,500,000 to build one or more armored ships. 
In August an examining board was set up and Welles ad- 
vertised for "offers from parties for construction of one 
or more ironclad steam vessels of war ... to be rigged 
with z masts, with wire rope standing rigging." Sketches 
and specifications were required for acceptance before 
September 3, 1861. 

Welles appointed a committee of three: Commodore 
Joseph Smith, Chief of the Bureau of Navy Yards and 
Docks, as senior officer, Commodore Hiram Paulding and 
Commander Charles Henry Davis. It was a conservative 
but not-too-barnacled board, even though Commodore 
Smith was a man of seventy who had grown old in the 
Navy under sail. 

Born in 1791, the Commodore had entered the Navy as 
a midshipman before the War of 1812, and fought at the 
Battle of Plattsburg. He had taken his present assignment 
in 1846, after years of sea duty. The pride of the Navy 
was strong in him: he was happy when his son entered the 
service and particularly proud that the young officer had 
a berth on the fine sailing frigate, the Congress. 

Commodore Paulding, a younger man, was the Navy's 

Ironclads, and a not-too-barnacled Board 23 

Engineer-in-Chief . His reputation for clear, quick thinking 
had recommended him for the mission to Virginia, in the 
preceding April, to bolster the timid spirits of Commodore 
McCauley: whatever had been salvaged for the Union or 
kept from falling into Confederate hands had been through 
Paulding's eff orts. The third member, Commander Davis, 
in his early fifties, was an officer with a fine list of achieve- 
ments: a linguist, Harvard student at fourteen, midshipman 
at sixteen. A superb mathematician, he was eventually de- 
tailed to prepare an American Nautical Almanac, which is 
still in use today. 

The call for submission of ideas and plans attracted 
countless inventors who beat their way to Washington with 
sketches and models. Among those submitted before the 
expiration of the closing date was one for a conventional 
warship with a slanted superstructure to carry iron plates 
4 5/2 inches thick. She would be known as the New Iron- 

A second vessel was proposed by Cornelius Scranton 
Bushnell, a native of Madison, Connecticut, an energetic 
and shrewd business man with interests in many fields, and 
a man of great means. Bushnell came rightly by an im- 
aginative and brisk talent for commercial enterprises: his 
forebears, braving the uncertainties of life in the New 
Haven Colony, had emigrated there from England in 1683, 
and helped to negotiate the purchase from the Indians of 
the Guilf ord Plantation. Throughout his life Bushnell wore 
success as easily as though it had been fashioned for him by 
an artful tailor. His first interest was in mercantile ships 
and the coastal trade: at sixteen he became the captain of 
a 6o-foot schooner. At twenty-one, he left the sea and 
soon established a thriving wholesale grocery business in 
New Haven. At thirty, his agile attention shifted to rail- 
roading: he completed sections of the Shore Line Railroad 

2 * Tin Cm on a Shingle 

between New Haven and New London, thereby opening 
a new route between New York and Boston. He was to 
play a leading part in the financing and construction of the 
Union Pacific Railroad, but at the beginning of the Civil 
War his lively mind turned once more to the sea and to 
the North's dire need for ships of all kinds-but mostly for 
ships of iron* 

In association with two partners, John Griswold and 
John F. Winslow who owned foundries in Troy, New 
York, Bushnell proposed to construct an iron-plated gun- 
boat, the Galena. The vessel he described would carry 
armor of a thickness of 3 inches. This would be backed 
by i J/ 2 inches of solid rubber on the somewhat eccentric 
theory that a bumper might have some repelling effect on 
gunshot. Eventually the rubber was eliminated and the 
iron plates thickened. 

Of all the ideas received in August, those for the New 
Ironsides and Galena most pleased the Board on Ironclads. 
Bushnell was encouraged by the approval of his model, but 
many Naval officers warned him gloomily that the Galena 
might not be able to carry the weight of her armor. 

Cornelius Bushnell, devoted supporter of President Lin- 
coln and the Union cause, seemingly more alive than most 
to the consequences of postponement and delay, desper- 
ately needed the advice of some expert engineer. Ever land, 
Fate led him to the workroom of a future partner and life- 
long friend: John Ericsson. 

IV: John Ericsson, inventor 

On a hot evening in August 1861, John Ericsson seated 
himself at his desk to write a letter. He was alone in his 
handsome house at 95 Franklin Street, in New York City. 
Based on his previous unhappy experiences with them, 
Ericsson's opinions placed little faith in any board of 
judges composed of professional Navy men. This letter, in 
neat longhand, he addressed directly to Abraham Lincoln. 
Ericsson was not a shy man given to understatement, nor 
was he a braggart inflated with pretentious phrases. He 
believed in himself and in his work and hoped to cut 
through red tape by directly addressing the President. 

New York, August 29, 1861 
To His Excellency Abraham Lincoln, 
President of the United States. 

The writer, having introduced the present system of naval 
propulsion and constructed the first screw ship of war, now 
offers to construct a vessel for the destruction of the rebel 
fleet at Norfolk and for scouring the Southern rivers and in- 
lets of all craft protected by rebel batteries. Having thus 
briefly noticed the object of my addressing you, it will be 
proper for me most respectfully to state that in making this 
offer I seek no private advantage or emolument of any kind. 
Fortunately I have already upward of one thousand of my 
caloric engines in successful operation, with affluence in pros- 
pect. Attachment to the Union alone impels me to offer my 


2 $ Tin Can on a Shingle 

services at this fearful crisis my life if need be in the great 
cause which Providence has called upon you to defend. 

The letter continued with a brief description of Ericsson's 
idea, less briefly with the destruction of the enemy that 
the idea could accomplish when translated into reality. It 
concluded: "Should you decide to put the work in hand, 
if my plan meets your own approbation, please telegraph 
and within forty-eight hours the writer will report himself 
at the White House." 

It may be possible that Abraham Lincoln did not know 
of Ericsson, whose fame had not yet spread beyond engi- 
neering circles; perhaps he never saw the letter. If he did see 
it, the thought of confronting the author of such burning 
prose may have wearied a man troubled as Mr. Lincoln 
was with the woes of a nation. Whatever the reason, the 
President did not reply to John Ericsson. 

The inventor waited, undoubtedly fuming, until Septem- 
ber 3 when he wrote another letter, this one addressed to 
the Committee on Ironclads, He enclosed sketches of his 
proposed ironclad and stated bluntly that his revolving 
turret with armor 8 inches thick 12 if need be was im- 
pregnable and that its guns would "split the rebel fleet at 
Norfolk into matches in half an hour." 

That letter, too, went unanswered. The closing date for 
consideration of proposed plans had come and gone. 

The dour Swedish-American was then fifty-eight. He 
was one of the geniuses of the nineteenth century some 
of his friends, indeed, said the greatest since Newton. In 
a new mechanical and industrial age, when all an inventor 
had to do was look around to determine what next there 
was to be invented, Ericsson's interest covered broad fields. 
He was no abstract scientist searching out basic laws: if 

John Ericsson, inventor 27 

they turned up in his work, fine. He was after practical 
use of the forces of nature and the improvement of their 
application. No one was more a typical child of the In- 
dustrial Revolution in the nineteenth century. 

John Ericsson was a great American. A monumental 
figure, he towers above many, a fine example of the old 
Norse element of the American Navy, and of the Scandi- 
navian streak that runs through the Monitor story. Dahl- 
gren, who gave the Monitor its guns, was the son of the 
Swedish consul in Philadelphia. The quartermaster who 
steered her was a Dane. Two petty officers and at least 
four members of her crew were Swedes. Gustavus Fox,. 
Assistant Secretary of the Navy, one of the earliest advo- 
cates of the Monitor, was of Swedish descent. Ericsson 
himself was born in 1803 in Langbanshyttan, a small back- 
woods mining village near Filipstad, Sweden. 

As a boy he was fascinated by machinery at the mine, 
and taught himself how to draw those machines by using 
his mother's sewing needles as the points of his homemade 
compasses. He went every day to the mines or worked at 
home, solitary and undisturbed by the need for companion- 
ship or play. 

Absorbed in the principles of weight, balance and mo- 
tion, he studied the drift of log rafts floating on the Dal- 
alven River and its streams. He was accumulating, with the 
undeviating drive of genius, work habits, knowledge and 
experience that would shape his dedicated course. In him 
was forming the aloof, unsocial personality of his almost 
monastic life. In later years, he would be heaped with 
academic and scientific honors, but these symbols of success 
had no meaning for him: many he declined. Yet, in 1880, 
when the National Academy of Science in Washington 
elected him a member, he refused to accept the honor be- 
cause "the Academy ought to have elected me some twenty 

28 Tin Can on a Shingle 

years previously." He described another engineer who had 
welcomed membership in the society as a "huge sham sus- 
tained by hired brains." 

In spite of Ericsson's brusqueness, his manner was des- 
cribed many years later by a friend as "courteous and 
extremely taking. He invariably made friends of high and 
low alike. With those in immediate contact in carrying 
out his work he was extremely popular. ... He could be 
hearty, open and frank, and he was a good talker." 

In Sweden he had broadened his knowledge of draftsman- 
ship and his reputation in mechanics. He also developed his 
body so that his strength became almost legendary. He 
joined the Army and was sent for training to Jemtland, at 
the extreme north of Sweden. Here Ericsson met and fell 
in love with a Swedish girl by whom he had a child. Strict 
laws regulating the marriage of young Swedish officers 
prevented the legalizing of the union. The young woman 
eventually married someone else, and Ericsson took his 
son, Hjalmar, to the home of his mother who cared lovingly 
for her grandchild. 

An older brother recognized the talent that was in John 
Ericsson, and supplied money for a trip to England, where, 
he argued, new ideas were being developed. Ericsson took 
leave of absence from the Army and never returned to it; 
later he was reinstated in absentia, with the rank of 
Captain, and forthwith resigned from the Army on the 
same day. However, he valued the title of "Captain" 
throughout his life. 

He arrived in England in 1 826 and spent the next thirteen 
years there. During the first ten years he took out thirty 
patents, producing one invention after the other in 1831, 
a locomotive that did a mile in fifty-six seconds. From his 
head came ideas for a new type of pump, a condenser for 
steam engines, a steam fire engine, the first high-pressure 

John Ericsson, inventor 29 

steam devices, a depth finder for use on ships, a machine for 
cutting files and finally, in 1836, he patented the screw 
propeller as used in modern navigation. He built the first 
propeller-driven ship to cross the Atlantic: the Robert 
F. Stockton, a steam schooner of 30 tons, later used as a 
towing vessel on the Erie Canal. 

He married an attractive English girl, Amelia Byam.. 
When the British, in favor of a rival inventor whose patent 
pre-dated his own, disputed Ericsson's prior claim to pay- 
ments on the screw propeller, he left for America, in 
November, 1839. Later, his wife joined him. Perhaps she 
was bored with New York and a husband who buried him- 
self in his work; she returned to England, expecting that he 
would follow shortly. He never did, and never saw Amelia 
again although he wrote warmly to her and supported her 
whenever he had moneywhich was not at all times. 

Mrs. Ericsson was a handsome, graceful woman, with 
fine eyes and a proud lift to her head. She was unhappy in 
America and increasingly discontented with a husband who 
was completely absorbed in his work: "she was jealous of 
a steam engine," Ericsson said. She wrote him often from 
her home in Kensington Gardens, always with pride in his 
success and wifely annoyance toward any who failed to 
acknowledge his talents. Ericsson sent her passage money 
to return to the States, but she refused to leave her home- 
land and died in London, in 1865. Her last words were a 
fond message to him. Ericsson seldom discussed his per- 
sonal aff airs, even with his biographer, but he did comment 
many years later on this strange marriage: "Fate made it 
possible for me to devote twenty-five years of undivided, 
undisturbed attention to my work which would not have 
been so if I had lived in what is called a happy marriage." 

Of his own wedding, Ericsson said years later, "I have 
not been in a church since March 1826, except once in. 

20 Tin Can on a Shingle 

London when on a certain morning I committed the indis- 
cretion of not only going inside the holy room but of also 
appearing before the altar and there giving a promise too 
difficult to keep." After the death of his wife he wrote, 
"My future and my success in the world required that I 
should not be troubled with children or with a wife who 
had a full right to live with me." 

In America, the Ericssons first stayed at the Astor House. 
Later, in 1843, they settled in a handsome gray stone 
mansion that still stands at 95 Franklin Street, occupied to- 
day by a textile firm. Bolts of gay cotton are now piled 
against the tall windows of the rooms where Ericsson lived 
and worked. Underneath the west window, placed there 
in 1913, rests a bronze plaque commemorating Ericsson and 
his partners, Bushnell, Griswold and Winslow, and their 
famous Monitor. 

Ericsson set up his studio-office in a sparsely furnished 
room on the street floor. He needed only a work desk for 
his drawing board, a slender bookcase for his drawing tools, 
a piano stool to be raised or lowered as work demanded, 
a few simple chairs. Across the room a large table held 
books and sketches; on occasion it also held an overworked 
inventor, asleep, too tired to climb to his bedroom on an 
upper floor. He lived simply, cared for by an elderly maid: 
breakfast at 8: 30, dinner at 4 p.m., tea and toast at 7. New 
York, as a city, had no interest for him. Later in life, his 
friends said that he refused to take even a brief tour of 
Central Park. He saw Brooklyn Bridge quite by accident. 
During all his years in New York he could not be per- 
suaded to ride on an elevated railroad and said that the Czar 
would have been assassinated if he had raised such a mon- 
strosity above the streets of Petersburg. 

Interest in propeller-driven vessels, then in Navy vessels, 
took him eventually to Greenpoint and the shipyards. He 

John Ericsson, inventor 31 

spent many mornings at Sandy Hook testing a new type of 
cannon. Soon after Ericsson arrived in America, a Navy 
officer, Captain Robert Stockton, his associate in ship- 
building in England, interested him in designing a new ship 
for the United States Navy. It became the Princeton, built 
in 1842, the first screw-driven, metal-hulled American 

A great tragedy overtook the Princeton on its second 
trial run down the Potomac. Stockton, an ambitious man 
with many influential friends, had arranged an impressive 
guest list for the occasion. He didn't bother, however, to 
invite the inventor, Ericsson. Among the dignitaries pres- 
ent were President Tyler and members of his Cabinet and 
their wives. After a splendid dinner, served on board, 
Stockton offered his guests a display of gunnery. One of 
the guns exploded, killing Secretary of State Upshur and 
Secretary of the Navy Gilmer and injuring other invited 

The resulting scandal was almost as horrible as the 
tragedy that was caused by the explosion. Stockton, who 
had not wished to share the credit, was now eager to 
bestow on Ericsson all of the blame. Ericsson explained, 
in vain, that although the gun had been built from his model, 
his specifications had not been followed, but had been 
executed by Stockton without consulting him. Stockton 
had friends in high places: a Congressional investigation 
absolved him from responsibility for the disaster. No 
charges were preferred against Ericsson, but the govern- 
ment refused to settle the % 1 5,000 payment that was due him 
for his work. The bill was pressed many times, but never 
paid. It is interesting that Stephen Mallory, then a member 
of a U. S. Senate Naval Committee, supported Ericsson's 
claim. He and others unsuccessfully presented the accurate 
facts: Ericsson had himself, in 1842, personally tested the 

~ 2 Tin Can on a Shingle 

original gun three hundred times, using a 21 2-pound shot 
and charges of powder up to 25 pounds. The gun had per- 
formed perfectly. 

The Fifty-first Congress of 1890 would pay tribute to 
the man who had built the Prmceton-but it would be a 
tribute of words only. The original model of the Ericsson 
gun, and the target at which it fired, rest today just outside 
the Sands Street Gate, at the New York Naval Shipyard in 
Brooklyn, a lasting evidence of two years of the closest 
work and a bill that was never paid. 

As a result of the episode of the Princeton, the Navy 
marked Ericsson as a difficult person to deal with. This 
may have been so. During his life Ericsson could not toler- 
ate fools or knaves and the Navy Department of his day 
had its share of both. 

Ericsson turned out one idea after the other but did not 
always bother to patent his inventions. When he did take 
out patents, it was often so that he and others could freely 
use them. The idea mattered to him more than the profit; 
yet, when he was cheated or defrauded, as happened often, 
he could react with high-pressured fury, be rude even to 
his friends, and then be apologetic the next day. 

On one occasion, Ericsson reached out to protect a work- 
man about to put his hand in a machine, and thereby lost a 
finger of his own right hand. Without fear or haste, he 
eventually sought a doctor to tend the wound. That night 
the doctor dropped by 95 Franklin Street and found his 
patient drawing with his left hand. Ericsson explained that 
since he might be forced to use his left hand for the rest of 
his life, it was not too early to begin training it. 

This was the man who left a child in Sweden and from 
time to time helped support him. Yet Ericsson had no curi- 
osity about seeing his own son until, at forty, Hjalmar came 
to America to visit his father. 

John Ericsson, inventor 55 

This was the man who described America at one time 
as a place where "confining work, trade fraud, and super- 
ficial show are all this country has to offer." Yet Ericsson 
never returned to Sweden. He became a naturalized citizen 
in 1848, and lived out his days in loyal service to his 
adopted land. 

This was the man on whom Cornelius Bushnell called 
one day in September 1 86 i with the Merrimac now almost 
two months underway in Norfolk while the Committee 
on Ironclads in Washington still deliberated. 

V: The floating battery at Qreenpoint 

John Ericsson received Cornelius Scranton Bushnell with 
the formal, precise and friendly politeness that was so often 
his manner. The Connecticut industrialist laid before him 
the plans of the Galena. "I gave him the data necessary 
for his calculations/' Bushnell later wrote to Gideon 
Welles. "He told me to call the next day for his reply. 
This I did, and received his answer: "She will easily carry 
the load you propose and stand a 6-inch shot at a respect- 
able distance.' 

"Captain Ericsson asked me if I had time just to examine 
the plan of a floating battery, absolutely impregnable to 
the heaviest shot or shell. I replied that the problem had 
been occupying me for the last three months. . . . He then 
produced a small, dust-covered box, and placed before me 
the plan of the Monitor. ... I was perfectly overjoyed 
when, at the close of the interview, Captain Ericsson en- 
trusted the box with its precious contents to my care." 

Bushnell took the model at once to the Hartford home 
of Gideon Welles, announcing, "The country is safe. , . . 
I have found a battery which will make us masters of the 

The Secretary of the Navy urged Bushnell to go at 
once to Washington, promising to join him there later in 
the week and do all he could to further the project. Welles 
knew at that time, and was one of the few who had known 


The floating battery at Greenpoint 55 

for almost two months, of reports that had been made by 
trusted spies: the Merrimac had been raised and was being 
converted into an ironclad. 

Bushnell's partners, John Griswold and John Winslow, 
were friends of Secretary of State Seward; they sought his 
intercession with the President. A strong letter of recom- 
mendation from Seward brought Bushnell an appointment 
at the White House the very next day. Model under arm, 
he told his story. 

The President was greatly impressed. He offered to 
appear with Bushnell, the next day, before the Committee 
on Ironclads. Promptly at 1 1 a.m. Mr. Lincoln arrived at 
the Navy Department, accompanied by Assistant Secretary 
of the Navy Fox and several other officers. Once again 
Bushnell told his story. Some who were present thought 
the idea exciting; others said, "Tommyrot!" 

Mr. Lincoln thoughtfully held the model in his hand. 
To many in the room it must have looked as it did to some 
Southerners who were to see the real Monitor on a morning 
of the following March: like a "tin can on a shingle," a 
"cheese box on a raft." Quotable history would have been 
served if the President had pronounced a round, declama- 
tory sentence billowing with wordy images about the 
world-stirring potential of the tiny model. What he said 
was so simple, so characteristically homespun that it rings 
with clear prophecy, only somewhat understated. 

"All I can say," said Mr. Lincoln, "is what the girl said 
when she put her foot in the stocking. "It strikes me there's 
something in it/ " 

Approval from the highest source resulted in a full meet- 
ing of the Board on Ironclads on the following day. Once 
more Bushnell, Ericsson's model again under his arm, went 
before the committee. Smith and Paulding voted affirma- 

3 6 Tin Can on a Shingle 

tively, as they had on the previous occasion. The third 
member, however, was skeptical: Commander Davis de- 
murred. He brought up Ericsson's past record with the 
Navy Department, going back twenty years to the episode 
of the Princeton and the exploded gun. Bushnell patiently 
argued Ericsson's side of the story. Smith and Paulding 
agreed to sign a report advising that a trial Ericsson floating 
battery be built providing that Commander Davis would 
join them in signing it. 

This he refused to do. He handed the model back to 
Bushnell. "Take it home and worship it," he said. "It will 
not be idolatry. It is in the image of nothing in the heaven 
above, or the earth beneath, or the waters under the earth." 

A downhearted shipbuilder reported to Secretary Welles 
the outcome of the meeting. Together, like crafty con- 
spirators, they made a plan. Ericsson must come to Wash- 
ington and plead his cause in person. Bushnell knew how 
deeply the incident of the Princeton had rankled, and 
feared that the outspoken inventor would abide by his vow 
never again to set foot in Washington. 

Bushnell left at once for New York. He told Ericsson 
that the committee had tentatively approved his plan, but 
wished further details. Secretary Welles had personally 
requested Ericsson's appearance at a meeting in Welles' 
office the next day, September 13, 1861. Ericsson agreed 
at once to be there. 

Both men took the night train to the Federal capital and 
met with Welles and the Board to learn the truth: that 
Ericsson's design had been rejected. Just how Bushnell 
looked at that moment has never been told. Ericsson looked 
very well. He was a tall man, broad-shouldered, with 
proud, almost military, carriage* His manner, when he 
wanted it to, could command respect: there was a firm set 
to his jaw. Well-groomed in customarily close-fitting 

The floating battery at Greenpoint 37 

frock coat and trousers and velvet vest, he was at ease and 
in surprising command of his temper. 

He demanded to know why his plan had been turned 
down. He was told, by which courageous Board member 
accounts do not state, that in the opinion of the Board his 
ship lacked stability. Thereupon, he lectured on the basic 
elements of physics, arguing his case for two hours and 
having the pleasure of hearing Paulding say, "Sir, I have 
learned more about the stability of a vessel from what you 
have said than I ever knew before." 

The plan of the future Monitor was approved in a quick 
meeting. Ericsson was urged to begin the work at once 
without waiting for proper contracts to be drawn. He 
needed no such urging: the keel of his ship had been 
forged before the contract ever reached Ericsson and his 

Ericsson agreed to build, in one hundred days, for 
$275,000 to be paid in four installments, a graceful metal 
hull beneath an iron-covered deck. In general it was like 
the model which Ericsson mailed to Napoleon III on 
September 26, 1854 different only in details. Around the 
hull ran an "overhang," 5 feet wide, 5 feet deep, of solid 
wooden blocks covered with iron plates. In the middle 
of the metal-topped deck rose a revolving turret enclosing 
two 1 1 -inch Dahlgren guns. Except for a forward pilot 
house and a smokestack, collapsible in time of battle, the 
deck was bare and a scant foot above the waterline. That 
was the craft that Ericsson eventually named the Monitor. 
When she was launched, she looked as if some graceful 
canoe had unhappily come up under a raft and was 
supporting it. 

The Monitors deck was 172 feet long, with a 41 -foot 
beam and a depth of n*4 feet. Her supporting hull was 
124 feet long, her total displacement 776 tons. The turret, 

-g Tin Can on a Shingle 

20 feet in diameter, rose 9 feet above the deck, and was 
encased with 8 inches of armor. The square, depressed 
pilot house, rising but 3 feet 10 inches above the deck, was 
3/2 feet long, 2 feet 8 inches wide. Not a blueprint of 
that ship existed as Ericsson returned to New York to build 
it. It was all in his head and had to be reproduced in just 
one hundred days. 

Construction began before there was an overall drawing. 
The tremendous job would have appalled anyone but John 
Ericsson. He worked on separate drawings, staying up all 
night to complete them and, in the morning, taking his 
rough sketches over to the Greenpoint Yard. The finished 
vessel was not precisely as he agreed to build it in the 
contract, for in reality he deepened it and broadened it 
slightly. He agreed to pay another inventor, Theodore R. 
Timby, $5,000 for the basic design of a revolving turret, 
and $5,000 on every additional turreted vessel until 
$100,000 had been received. Ericsson preferred to make 
this payment rather than risk litigation that might hold 
up his work. There would be no time for delay, legal or 
otherwise, in translating a brand new idea into a brand 
new kind of ship in one hundred days. 

One hundred days added up to a short time in terms of 
shipbuilding, but not to the anxious leaders of the Union, 
troubled by daily rumors that were delivered by spies and 
escapees from Norfolk: a host of men were gun-testing 
on the Merrimac; she would soon be ready to take Fort 
Monroe, destroy the Union fleet, raze Northern harbor 
towns. Newspapers rumored the construction of a "South- 
ern Monster," and in the North rose disquiet and the be- 
ginning of a great fear. If the Merrimac put to sea and 
attacked Northern ports, what ship in the U. S. could 
stop her? 

October 1861 found a respectable number of Union 

The floating battery at Greenpoint 3$ 

ships at Newport News and off Fort Monroe. In the 
Roads, Commodore Louis M. Goldsborough, Commander 
of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, was impressed 
with, but not unduly disturbed by, rumors of the Merri- 
mac*s progress. In his command were the Congress, a 
sailing frigate with 5 guns; the sailing sloop, Cumberland, 
with 30 guns; the steam frigates Roanoke and Minnesota, 
sister ships of the original Merrimac, with 80 guns between 
diem. The Commodore was a sailor of the old school: he 
confidently expected to encircle the Merrimac with his 
mighty vessels and with their heavy guns pound her to 
pieces. All he required were a few tugs to tow the giant 
sailing ships into position to aim their ordnance. 

Not all were as sanguine as Commodore Goldsborough. 
No day passed when men on the northern shore did not 
stare anxiously across the water toward where the Merri- 
mac was being built 10 miles down the mouth of the 
Elizabeth River. 

John Ericsson, working feverishly in New York, did 
not pause to look toward the South. Jobs were parceled 
out at Greenpoint. The Continental Iron Works of 
Thomas F. Rowland, at the foot of Calyer Street, would 
lay the keel and the hull, as additional parts arrived. An- 
other company would buUd the engines and the rest of 
the machinery. A third company in New York, well- 
named the Novelty Iron Works, would construct the 
turret. From the Hollis Street foundry in Nashua, New 
Hampshire, symbolically located along the Merrimack 
River, would come the porthole stoppers, heavy pieces of 
iron to be swung down to cover the ports when the guns 
were not in action. Minor jobs were awarded to smaller 
plants as fast as Ericsson could have the detailed drawings 
made. Sometimes assistants developed them into neat blue- 
prints; more often there was not time for finished work, 

s Tin Can on a Shingle 

and Ericsson's own rough sketches were sent out to 
foundries and shops. Forty were patentable, but Ericsson 
did not bother to register them; he was too busy. 

Thomas Rowland described the inventor during the 
building: "Mr. Ericsson was in every part of the vessel 
apparently at the same moment, slapping over planks and 
gangways, and up and down ladders, as though he were 
a boy of sixteen. It seemed as though a plate could not be 
placed or a bolt struck without his making his appearance 
at the workman's side." 

Ericsson's ship represented in a unique way the culmina- 
tion of the wealth of interest of his lifetime. He drew the 
concept of it from every corner of his experience: from his 
memory of the motion of rafts on Swedish waters; from 
his own experiments with artillery and the penetration of 
shot and shell; from his knowledge and improvement of 
the steam engine. The Monitor was his, to the last rivet, 
as he tore into work through days and often sleepless 
nights, and insisted on the same driving output from his 
staff and building crews. 

When completed contracts from the Navy Department 
reached him in early October, he found in them a shocking 
clause: the builders were required to assume all risk and 
forfeit advance payments if the Monitor proved to be un- 
successful. The Navy was not willing to gamble a cent on 
experiment, no matter how entertainingly the originator 
might discourse on the basic laws of ship stability. Further, 
the Navy stipulated a test period of ninety days in which 
experts might judge if the ship were workable even if their 
tests had to be run under enemy fire. Of the sum agreed 
upon the Navy would withhold 25 percent until the vessel 
had been properly tested and accepted. The builders were 
obliged to take out a bond guaranteeing that these partic- 
ulars would be observed. Ericsson might justifiably have 
canceled so unyielding a contract, as another instance of un- 

The floating battery at Greenpoint 47 

satisfactory dealings with Navy. But he and Bushnell. 
Griswold and Winslow were motivated by patriotism be- 
yond profit. They went ahead, Ericsson advancing the 
ideas, his three partners providing the means. It was agreed 
that all net profits or losses would be equally divided 
among the four partners. 

As work progressed during the autumn of 1861, Com- 
modore Smith, Chairman of the Ironclad Board, grew 
frightened and restless, weighed down by the responsibility 
of his vote in favor of an armored ship. Many of his 
brother officers, he said, had expressed misgivings not only 
concerning ironclads but about the Commodore's sanity 
in having approved one. In letter after letter, he entreated 
Ericsson for reassurance. Much of the time that the busy 
inventor might have spent at his drawing board, or at the 
shipyard, was occupied by the need to respond to the aged 
Commodore. Smith's quibbling would have infuriated a 
man more patient than Ericsson, and would have dis- 
heartened a less optimistic one. 

Smith wrote that he had been advised that concussion 
would drive the gun crews from the turret. He was con- 
cerned over the vessel's stability; expert naval architects 
believed that the ship would not remain upright under so 
much metal. Ericsson's replies reviewed the elementary 
laws of physics, and Smith seemed satisfied. But three days 
later, he had been figuring out the Monitor's displacement 
and statistics showed that she would not float; two days 
later, he was certain that even if she floated the roll of the 
sea would throw her crew off its feet. After five days 
more, what had Ericsson to say of the ventilation system? 
Suppose a sailor wanted to gain the deck for a bit of fresh 
sea air? 

Smith's worried barrage continued throughout the build- 
ing of the ship. To all his objections Ericsson replied 
patiently, politely, in the manner he seldom adopted toward 

42 Tin Can on a Shingle 

conservative, elderly commodores. He proceeded as unin- 
terruptedly and as faithfully as he could to keep his one- 
hundred-day promise. 

The Commodore's worries came not only from the 
doubts of his naval associates, but from questions that were 
being fired at the Navy by an impatient and intolerant 
press. The Scientific American had procured, from some 
unknown source, sketches of the Merrimac, and published 
them in early November. Ericsson, without consulting 
anyone and perhaps valuing the nation's confidence above 
its security, released to the same magazine a full descrip- 
tion of the Monitor. The plans were examined, not only 
by Southern spies, but by readers, many of whom were not 
impressed by "Ericsson's Folly." Poor unhappy Commo- 
dore Smith was warned that if any defeat followed the 
launching of the Merrimac as the result of Ericsson's con- 
traption, "it would prove no less fatal to the Union than 
to the Administration." As criticism and queries continued 
to plague the concentrated efforts of John Ericsson, one 
question rose above all others: "When will the Monitor be 
finished?" And that question Smith busily dispatched to 
Ericsson every day. 

The last plan was drawn sometime in December. 
Assorted parts arrived at the Greenpoint Yard as they were 
finished. Through days and nights of work the vessel took 
shape. But the hundred days would be up in January and 
the Monitor was not yet launched. Ericsson depended on 
the Navy to supply the two guns that he needed, and had 
built the ship to carry ones of 15 -inch caliber. None was 
available. Two n-inch guns were taken from the Dacotah 
then in New York, and Ericsson saw to their proper mount- 
ing in the turret. 

At last he stated with conviction that the Monitor would 
be launched on the 3oth of January. 

VI: The captain, and the crew 

When the Civil War began, the USS Hartford was in 
the East Indies. It turned home in the autumn and came 
into New York. On board was a pleasant and cheerful 
young lieutenant, just three years out of Annapolis, lean 
and tall and browned by the sun. He was Samuel Dana 
Greene, born in Cumberland, Maryland. His family's roots 
were in New England; in his youth he returned with his 
parents to their native Rhode Island whence, from Provi- 
dence in 1855, Greene received his appointment to the 
Naval Academy. 

Government service was a tradition in the Greene family. 
Dana's father, George Sears Greene, was graduated from 
West Point in 1823. He served as a lieutenant in the ar- 
tillery, then returned to the Academy as an instructor in 
mathematics. He resigned from the Army in 1836 and, as 
an engineer, assumed charge of the construction of New 
York's Croton Reservoir and the Croton Water Works 
Extension. With the Civil War, he returned to military 
service and was appointed a brigadier general on the staff 
of General Banks. When he was mustered out in 1866, the 
elder Greene resumed his former profession of engineering 
and helped to plan the construction of New York City's 
elevated railways. He became one of the founders and a 
later president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, 
but he never lost touch with, or interest in, West Point. 
He would Hve to the age of ninety-three and become the 


44 Tin Can on a Shingle 

Academy's oldest living graduate. In 1894, by a special 
Act of Congress, he returned to the regular Army as a 
first lieutenant, the rank he had held at the time of his 
resignation, and was then placed on the retired list. 

His son graduated from Annapolis seventh among twenty 
in the class of 18593 class that is famous for having in- 
cluded the great Naval historian and theoretician, Alfred 
T. Mahan. Young Greene was not a great student. English 
and languages troubled him, but his career would not call 
for those. He finished third in astronomy and navigation. 
He ranked second in seamanship and, very much to the 
point as will be seen, stood fourth in his class in naval 
gunnery. Whoever may have ranked first was not to have 
the experience that awaited young Lieutenant Greene. 

Aboard the Hartford in New York, Greene heard about 
the strange new ship that was being built at the Rowland 
Yards, and went to see her. Thereafter he was rarely far 
from Calyer Street. As some men are taken with a maid or 
a calling, so Greene was held by the Monitor. He not only 
believed in her: he was willing to give his life to prove 
that belief. 

He soon had an opportunity. The first call for volun- 
teers to make up the crew brought Greene forward, even 
as men were saying that Ericsson's ship would never get to 
sea orif she did would be the iron coffin of her crew. 
Gloomy predictions did not discourage Greene. On the 
contrary, they were a challenge that made him the more 
eager for the launching of the Monitor, 

An older man also waited that launching a man of deci- 
sion and kindness and quiet nobility. John Lorimer 
Worden would become one of the esteemed admirals of 
the Civil War, loved and respected by those who served 
under his command, but in 1862 he was a lieutenant. He 
had been one for twenty years, at the annual wage of 

The captain, and the crew 45 

$1,875. Born in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1818, he was 
forty-four when Commodore Smith appointed him com- 
manding officer of the Monitor. He had entered the Navy 
as a midshipman in 1834, eleven years before the founding 
of Annapolis. A mature and reliable officer, he had been 
dispatched, just before the fall of Fort Surnter, on a 
dangerous secret mission to Pensacola, Florida. Captured 
while returning toward the North, he had spent seven 
months in an Alabama jail before being exchanged with 
the first group of prisoners of war. Still suffering from 
illness contracted in prison, he was appointed to the 
Monitor as an ideal choice for a post demanding ability 
and high courage. 

Lieutenant Worden had never before commanded a ship. 
He put aside any inner misgivings when he inspected the 
Monitor's novelties, and reported: 

At all events, I am quite willing to be an agent to testing her 
capabilities and will readily devote whatever of capacity and 
energy I have to that object. 

On the rainy morning of January 30, John Ericsson was 
ready for the launching. A crowd of curious sightseers and 
invited guests crowed the docks along with a few cheerful 
bookmakers who took bets on whether the ship would sink 
or float. Their business was brisk. One bystander said, "If 
Ericsson ever finds his battery, after she is launched, he will 
have to fish her up from the mud into which her stern will 
surely plunge." 

Ericsson and his associates stood on the deck, 20 feet 
from the bow. Farther back, glad to be aboard, was young 
Lieutenant Greene. Like Lieutenant Jones on the Merri- 
mac, Greene was to serve throughout the Monitor's career 
as her only executive officer. It is a pity that the Navy has 

4$ Tin Can on a Shingle 

preserved no fuller biographical account than the bare facts 
of his service record. It would be rewarding to know of the 
emotions and interests that shaped the courage, devotion 
and self-effacement of young Lieutenant Greene. Un- 
happily, no bronze plaques exist to commemorate his life 
and deeds. 

At midmorning, the Monitor's blocks were knocked out 
from under her and, ironclad though she was, she slipped 
gracefully down the ways, stern first, flags flying. She hit 
the water, wavered, then floated as comfortably as a log. A 
boatman who had gone out into the river on the pessimistic 
assumption that he would rescue survivors returned cheer- 
fully, alone, to the shore. From the crowd rose delayed 
cheers that were charged with the added intensity of a few 
seconds of finely drawn suspense. Even the bookmakers 
forgot that this day would show little profit, and responded 
with enthusiasm. 

The Monitor was launched. The press hailed the one- 
hundred day wonder; actually the period had run over the 
allotted time, but the launching was none the less a spec- 
tacular achievement. The New York World of January 
31 reported: "It was very evident even to the dullest ob- 
server that the battery hadn't the slightest intention of 
sinking." Ericsson confidently told reporters that his iron- 
clad would sink the Merrimac and that she could withstand 
hours of punishment from any Southern ship: one of those 
boasts would be true. 

After months of apathy toward ironclads in general, 
and lack of confidence toward one in particular, Navy 
officials suddenly awoke to the need for the Monitor. A 
mechanic had recently crossed over from Portsmouth to 
bring the North full details of the building of the Merrimac. 
Immediately after the launching ceremony, Ericsson tucked 
into his pocket a telegram that had just arrived from the 

The captain, and the crew 47 

Navy's Assistant Secretary: "Hurry her to sea as the 
Merrimac is nearly ready at Norfolk." Commodore Smith 
contributed a thought of unusual brevity: "The Monitor 
is much wanted now" Gideon Welles forwarded word 
that the President wished Ericsson to keep him informed 
by daily telegraph regarding progress of the installations. 
Ericsson hoped that the Monitor could depart by mid- 
February, although nothing on the vessel had been tested 
or tried. 

The Monitor's crew was composed of volunteers selected 
by Lieutenant Worden from the North Carolina and the 
Sabine. He warned them of their dangerous berths aboard 
a new and untried ship, but more volunteers applied for 
service than were needed: "a better crew," Worden said 
later, "no naval commander ever had the honor to com- 
mand." Of the staff there were: Executive Officer Greene; 
Acting Masters Louis N. Stodder and J. N. Webber; Act- 
ing Master's Mate George Fredericksen; Acting Surgeon 
D. C. Logue; Paymaster W. F. Keeler. Isaac Newton was 
First Engineer in charge of steam machinery, assisted by 
R. W. Hands, A. B. Campbell and M. T. Sunstrom. Cap- 
tain's Clerk Daniel Toffey, Quartermaster Peter Williams, 
Boatswain's Mate John Stocking completed the staff, with 
a crew of forty-two others. In addition, Chief Engineer 
Alban C. Stimers, formerly of the Merrimac, completing 
the ship's company, was present as an official observer for 
the Navy. 

The first tests showed that small adjustments were 
needed. The trial run took place on February 27; it was a 
failure. Watchers on the dock greeted a depressed and 
chagrined crew when the Monitor returned, under tow. 
The engine valves had not been properly set; the steering 
mechanism had broken down. 

These were repaired and, on March 3, the second de~ 

48 Tin Can on a Shingle 

parmre went off flawlessly. Families and friends lined the 
dock as the Monitor steamed off in a snowstorm. Friends 
felt they might never again see their loved ones. They saw 
them a few days later, for the rudder did not work. The 
Monitor log reported of one disillusioned seaman: "John 
Atkins deserted, and took with him the ship's cat and left 
for parts unknown." 

All previous delays had been caused by errors of hasty 
installation. The mishap to the rudder resulted from the 
only mistake that Ericsson made in his drawings. When 
naval engineers suggested laying up the ship for a month 
to permit the installation of a new rudder, Ericsson replied 
angrily that he would have the present one working in 
three days. In his pocket was another telegram from 
Gustavus Fox: "It is very important that you should say 
exactly the day the Monitor can be at Hampton Roads." 

Workmen were aboard her until the last moment, com- 
pleting the repair in four days. The date of the Monitor's 
departure was set but she was held up, this time by bad 
weather. Finally on the morning of March 6, she left New 
York towed by the Seth Loiv and convoyed by the gun-- 
boats Currituck and Sachem. 

She had barely put to sea when the Secretary of the 
Navy telegraphed Commander Paulding at the Brooklyn 
Navy Yard, changing the Monitor's orders: she was not 
to go to Hampton Roads but to proceed instead up the 
Potomac to Washington. 

The only explanation for this sudden and surprising 
change of plan comes from John Nicolay, President Lin- 
coln's secretary. He was present at a morning Cabinet 
meeting in Washington on the 6th of March. The mem- 
bers attending were in lively debate on the subject of Gen- 
eral McClellan and his proposed Peninsular Campaign. 
He wished to transport his troops down the Atlantic Coast 

The captain, and the cre*w 49 

to Fort Monroe. The President and various Cabinet mem- 
bers believed that this movement of McClellan's forces 
would dangerously expose Washington to the possibility 
of a Southern advance up the Potomac. They preferred 
that McClellan's men proceed southward down the 
Potomac, thus maintaining a buffer between the Southern 
forces and the Union capital. But across this route lay 
scattered enemy fortifications. Nicolay reported the deci- 
sion of that meeting: the Monitor was to change her 
planned course and proceed up the Potomac to "silence 
the rebel batteries and clear the way for McClellan." 

Fortunately for the Union, the order arrived too late. 
Happily unaware of the commotion created at the Brook- 
lyn Navy Yard soon after her departure, the Monitor 
proceeded peacefully down the Jersey coast on a pleasant 
March day. Darkness set in gently and everything seemed 
well except for a breeze that strengthened as the night 
wore on. 

At last the Monitor was under way, one-hundred-and- 
fifty-two days from the October afternoon when Ericsson 
had described the ship to the Navy officials and when 
nothing of it existed but a cardboard model and an idea 
in his head. 

VII: Rumors, false and true 

Although the Merrimac had been rebuilding ao miles 
from Fort Monroe, just across Hampton Roads, the reports 
that came to the Union officers in charge of the blockading 
fleet were astonishingly varied. One story said she was 
afloat, but with her roof under 2 feet of water and unable 
to carry any guns. Another said that she was so unsteady 
that any cross current would upset her. The South had, 
in fact, exploited the presence of known Northern spies 
by circulating false rumors. Inaccurate stories were planted 
in Norfolk newspapers bemoaning the fact that the Merri- 
mac's old machinery had been discarded as useless; that 
miscalculations had been made in estimating her displace- 
ment; that her hull, rotted by river mud, was unseaworthy. 

The Northern press was glad to blow away fears that 
had been rising in the coastal towns. Gleefully now, Union 
newspapers spread the false reports and sneered at "the 
impregnable armed raider." Confederate hopes, they said, 
had been blunted; the war would soon be over. Commo- 
dore Goldsborough, Commander of the North Atlantic 
Blockading Squadron, accepted these rumors cheerfully, 
reassured by his captains of the Minnesota and the heavily 
armed Congress that, even if the Merrimac were success- 
fully completed, their ships could easily dispose of her. 

But spies escaped to the North with different tales. A 
Negro woman carried a note to the Washington home of 
Gideon Welles: written by a mechanic who had fled the 


A photograph taken just before the war. 




A pltntofjraph taken in later life. 

Rumors, false and true , j/ 

Gosport Navy Yard, it reported that the Merrimatfs iron 
had been bolted into place, her engines repaired and turned 
over. Her old Dahlgren guns had been re-installed and, 
most frightening, her bow carried a 1,500 pound metal ram 
that could deal death to wooden ships. Authentic word 
arrived in February: the Merrimac had been launched. 
- A wave of terror swept over Union cities and congealed 
above Washington. Captain Dahlgren, the head of the 
Washington Navy Yard, advised Goldsborough to block- 
ade the mouth of the Elizabeth River, so the Merrimac 
could not run out. He did not bother to say how to effect 
that blockade under the fire of the Confederate guns at 
Craney Island and SewalTs Point. 

Edwin McMasters Stanton, Secretary of the Army, de- 
veloped anxieties second only to those of Commodore 
Smith. He said that the Merrimac would destroy every 
vessel in the service of the North. Welles was peppery on 
the subject of the Merrimac. As Secretary of the Navy 
he had borne the brunt of criticism for the delayed seizure 
of the Gosport Navy Yard; his unpopularity increased each 
day with each fresh rumor of the Merrimac' 's conversion. 

That conversion, though impeded by the South's lack 
of resources, had progressed steadily, paralleling the build- 
ing of the Monitor. Both ships were launched at the end 
of January and commissioned within a day of each other: 
the Merrimac, renamed the Virginia, on the 24th, the 
Monitor, on the 2 5th, of February. Unlike the Monitor, 
the Merrimac would have no trial voyage. Out in the 
waters where the only tests could take place the Federal 
guns were waiting. Her maiden voyage would be one 
right into battle. 

However varied were the Northern opinions of the 
Merrimac, there was no uncertainty about her in the mind 
of Stephen Mallory, Secretary of the Confederate Navy. 

$2 Tin Can on a Shingle 

On a day in January, this sad-faced, thoughtful man sat at 
his desk in the Navy Department in Richmond and dictated 
stirring orders to the captain he had chosen for the top 
command, Franklin Buchanan. 

You are hereby detached from the office of "Orders and 
Detail" and will proceed to Norfolk and report to Flag Officer 
Forrest for the naval defense of the James River. 

You will hoist your flag on the Virginia (Merrimac) . . . 
or any other vessel of your squadron which will for the 
present embrace the Virginia, Patrick Henry (Yorktown}, 
Jamestown, Teaser, Raleigh and Bewfort. 

The Virginia is a novelty in naval construction, is untried, 
and her powers unknown, and the department will not give 
specific orders as to her attack on the enemy. Her powers as 
a ram are very formidable and it is hoped that you will be able 
to test them. 

Like the bayonet charge of infantry, this mode of attack 
will commend itself to you in the present scarcity of ammuni- 
tion. . . . Even without guns the ship would be a formidable 

Could you pass Old Point and make a dashing cruise on the 
Potomac as far as Washington, its effect upon the public mind 
would be important to the cause. 

The condition of our country and the painful reverses we 
have just suffered demand our utmost exertions. Convinced as 
I am that the means for striking a decided blow for our Navy 
are now for the first time presented, I congratulate you upon 
it and know that your judgment and gallantry will meet all 
just expectations. Action prompt and successful action now 
would be of serious importance to our cause. 

In selecting Franklin Buchanan for the command of the 
Merrimac, Stephen Mallory paid the highest possible com- 
pliment to both the officer and the ship. Buchanan was one 
of the most distinguished men in the Confederate Navy. In 

Rumors, false and true $3 

1845, he had organized the newly-created Naval Academy 
at Annapolis and at the outbreak of the Civil War, held 
the important position of head of the Washington Navy 
Yard. In record, deportment, appearance, he represented 
the finest type of Navy man. His features were cleanly 
molded and his eyes had the sparkle of forty-seven years 
spent on the Navy's sea. He resigned his high Washington 
command when it seemed that his native state of Maryland 
would join with the South; when it did not, he tried to 
withdraw that resignation. Gideon Welles insisted that it 

Not a secessionist, deploring "this most useless, fratri- 
cidal war," Buchanan wrote to members of his family: "The 
deed is done and I am made an unhappy man, but I must 
submit." He turned to the South and was awarded her 
highest accolade: command of the ship that had been 
built to smash Mr. Lincoln's blockade. 

So distinguished a commander deserved and was given a 
staff composed of the best the South could offer: Catesby 
ap Roger Jones as Executive Officer; H. Ashton Ramsay 
as Chief Engineer. No one knew better than Ramsay the 
eccentricities of the Merrimac's engines: in his opinion, "a 
more ill-contrived and unreliable pair . . . could be found 
only in the U.S.N." Lieutenants appointed to the Merrimac 
were John Taylor Wood, Charles Simms, Hunter Davidson 
and R. D. Minor. A fifth lieutenant, Walter Butt, had been 
a roommate in student days at Annapolis of the Monitor's 
young Samuel Dana Greene. The midshipmen were Fonte, 
Marmaduke, Craig, Long, Rootes, and Littlepage. John 
Semple was Paymaster. Ramsay's assistants in the engine 
room would be Tynan and Arthur Sinclair, Jr. Surgeon 
Dinwiddie Phillips had as his assistant Algernon S. Garnett. 

These were men who bore the proudest and gentlest 
names of the South, and who would soon write those names 

j^ - Tin Can on a Shingle 

into a brutal page of history. They were the men chosen 
to serve aboard the Merrimac under the battle orders of an 
immaculate commander whose hasty resignation aligned 
him irrevocably against the Union. Though he stayed with 
the South, Buchanan expressed "a horror of firing on the 
Stars and Stripes." He was torn by the need to fight not 
only against friends but against boys that he had trained at 

As the day came to load ammunition on the Merrimac, 
Buchanan may have been even more troubled by a second 
dispatch from Secretary Mallory, this one more imperative 
than the last: 

I submit for your consideration the attack of New York by 
the Virginia. . . . Can the Virginia steam to New York and 
attack and burn the city? She can, I doubt not, pass Old 
Point safely and in good weather and a smooth sea she could 
doubtless go to New York. Once in the bay she could shell 
and burn the city and the shipping. Such an event would 
eclipse all the glories of all the combats of the sea, would place 
every man in it comparatively high, and would strike a blow 
from which the enemy would never recover. Peace would 
inevitably follow. Bankers would withdraw their capital from 
the city, the Brooklyn Navy Yard and its magazine and all the 
lower part of the city would be destroyed, and such an event 
by a single ship, would do more to achieve an immediate inde- 
pendence than would the results of many campaigns. Can the 
ship go there? Please give me your views. 

Could the ship go there? Buchanan did not know how 
many furlongs she could move down the Elizabeth River. 
He could not speak for a vessel whose guns had never been 
fired, whose crew had never put to sea in her, whose 
engines sputtered and wheezed and clanked. 

Yet Mallory's dream was not altogether wild. It could 

Rumors, -false and true y$ 

all happen as he predicted; the unknown factor was the 
behavior of the ship once she put out into the Roads and 
faced the grim line of almost 300 guns that were waiting 
on the wooden ships across the harbor. 

On the night of March 7, one day after the Monitor 
had left New York, Buchanan made an abrupt decision. 
He issued orders for the priming of the Merrimac*s engines 
and the rapid completion of all her work. He may have 
received word that the Monitor was on her way South. 
He had no way of knowing anything about the perform- 
ance of that well-advertised little ship but even news of 
her departure would have troubled him. 

If, on that night of March 7, the commander of the 
Merrimac had known what the Monitor then faced, he 
might have been less agitated. The crew whose friends 
had whispered that all that Ericsson had built for its brave 
seamen was a giant steel coffin may have wondered if that 
were not the truth. 

VIII: The "Yankee Notion" goes south 

The Monitor sailed serenely down the Jersey coast on 
the clear, cold morning of Thursday, March 6. Her cap- 
tain and crew hardly dared hope that she was really under 
way, but the voyage proceeded in perfect order. 

Close by were the Currituck and Sachem, like protective 
mother hens suddenly gone to sea. Boatswain's Mate John 
Stocking reported that the repaired rudder held steadily to 
the course set by the towing tugboat, the Seth Low* The 
new engine, of Ericsson's own design, pulsed with a reso- 
lute and reassuring hum. Chief Engineer Newton observed 
with satisfaction the rhythmic rise and fall of the 2 pistons 
whose connecting rods drove the Monitor's p-f oot propeller. 

Tons of coal filled the bunkers that walled the engine 
room. At home on the sea, even in these unfamiliar sur- 
roundings, engineering Assistants Sunstrom, Campbell and 
Hands busied themselves with endless chores. Their quar- 
ters were filled with the comfortable smell of warm steam 
and clean, freshly oiled machinery. 

At 4 p.m. Sandy Hook Light bore WNW, 6 miles away. 
If the Monitor performed as well in battle as on her first 
cruise no man aboard her need fear any encounter. The 
crew shared their officers' curiosity concerning the iron- 
clad's novel features, and took courage from knowing 
that her propeller was safe from cannon fire and ramming, 
shielded by the overhang of the metal deck. 

Gunner's Mate Joseph Crown and members of the gun- 

The "Yankee Notion" goes south 57 

crews shifted the weight of the heavy shot that had been 
stored under the berth deck to a more forward position to 
balance the machinery astern. Other crewmen inspected 
the supplies of whale oil in the brass illuminating lamps that 
swung from the beams, and checked the number of candles 
for the pendant glass-enclosed holders in the turret. 

In the rush of construction many last minute details had 
been omitted, yet the staff quarters were comfortably out- 
fitted with well-designed chairs and bunks, tables and 
cabinets. Since living quarters were all on one deck, below 
the waterline, Ericsson had provided powerful pumps for 
drawing air in through pipes that rose about a foot above 
the deck; the current was conducted to the furnaces, as 
well as through the interior of the ship. 

In a broad center passage on the berth deck, beneath 
and astern of the turret, the ships cooks attended to their 
work in the galley. Acting Masters Stodder, Webber and 
Fredericksen were to share the tricks at the wheel. Others 
listed the ship's supplies that were stored in lockers lining 
the berth deck. Surgeon D. C. Logue set up simple in- 
firmary equipment in his cabin. In Captain Worden's two- 
room cabin across the bow, Captain's Clerk Daniel Toffey 
set a water carafe in its wall bracket. 

In the partially sunk pilot house, Louis Stodder stood 
on a platform below the main deck. His eyes were on a 
level with two ^6-inch elongated slits. Except for these 
minute openings for conning the ship, he was surrounded 
by solid walls of wrought iron, 1 2 inches thick. Above his 
head was a plate of iron, 2 inches thick, left unbolted so 
that it could serve in any emergency as an escape hatch. 
The pilot house communicated by ladder with the berth 
deck, and by speaking tubes to the turret and engine rooms. 

Aft of the captain's cabin were the partitioned state- 
rooms and the wardroom of the officers. The remainder 

j Tin Can on a Shingle 

of the berth deck provided quarters for the crew, an allow- 
ance of 14 inches having been assigned to the space for 
the hanging of each hammock. Ever practical, Ericsson 
had provided sleeping space for only one half of the crew, 
on the assumption that only part of them would be off duty 
at one time. Behind one door was another of Ericsson's 
inventions, the first self-flushing toilet. If not operated 
correctly, it could draw in a jet of sea water 3 feet high. 

These were the quarters in which the Monitor's officers 
and her men lived and where some of them would die. 

As one bell in the first watch struck, Barnegat Light was 
sighted, bearing S by W. At midnight, George Frederick- 
sen wrote peacefully in the Log, "So ends this day." 
Morning broke clear and cold, with a freshened wind that 
began to raise a sea. For the first time, the new ship was 
to meet rough water; as the wind increased, Captain 
Worden became uneasy. 

If the ship had been tight this would have been a rough 
sea but not a dangerous one. Someone at the shipyard had 
not believed Ericsson's conviction that the turret, with its 
base mounted on a precisely machined brass grove sunk 
snugly into the deck, could safely ship a little water: 
Ericsson had provided a pump for this contingency. With- 
out Ericsson's knowledge the base of the turret had been 
pried up and packed with oakum. Now, as the sea became 
rougher, some of the oakum washed out, leaving slits a 
fraction of an inch high, but several feet long through 
which the water poured. A raging ocean smashed against 
the pilot house and roared back over the turret in great arcs 
that drained down through the berth deck hatch. 

One of the most ingenious devices Ericsson had provided 
for his ironclad was a method of lowering her anchor 
through a well in the overhanging deck where it would be 
protected from enemy fire. Now, as the overhang spanked 

The "Yankee Notion" goes south 59 

down upon the rough sea, air rushed out of the well 
cylinder with great gusts of groaning, tortured sound. 
Seamen battling to save their ship stopped in their tracks, 
frozen by these wails of doom that swept from bow to 
stern: "worse," Greene later said, "than the death groans 
of twenty men." 

In the pilot house, George Fredericksen braced himself 
at the wheel, straining to hold the ship against the batter- 
ing sea. R. W. Hands reported by tube to the pilot house 
that water was pouring down on the machinery through the 
air blowers and that the ventilating system had failed. A 
second later brought news that without a draft boiler fires 
were dying: gas from smoldering fires was slowly filling 
the engine-room. To Captain Worden it seemed that 
everything that had taken months to plan and then to 
build would in one hour be smashed by the tyrant sea. 

The people of the North believed that the Monitor had 
been ordered South to engage the Merrimac: so she had. 
For that purpose, not only Ericsson but President Lincoln 
as well had urged her upon the cautious Navy. But on 
this maiden voyage, her objectives were not merely to float 
and to fight; the matter of first importance was how she 
floated, and how she fought. She was the Navy's ironclad 
guinea pigto prove herself for Ericsson and the engineers, 
or to disprove herself for those skeptics whose faith re- 
mained with the old line of wooden ships. Aboard her to 
keep score for both factions, Alban C. Stimers was ex- 
pected to be a balanced judge. He was a naval officer, but 
he was also a trained engineer. 

At this moment the observer for the Navy was being 
given a vivid idea of the Monitor's behavior in a rough sea. 
When the vessel continued to ship water, and Engineer 
Newton reported that the pumps were unable to cope with 
the rising level in the bilges, Stimers fought his way to the 

6 Tin Can on a Shingle 

engine room. As both men struggled with the pumps they 
were overcome by gases from the smoldering fires. Chok- 
ing crewmen, their faces covered with wet rags, rushed 
through the bulkhead and barely managed to haul both 
men out alive. Against the buffeting of the sea they were 
carried to the turret to be revived by fresh air. 

With the fires dying, the steam pressure fell, making 
the pumps useless. John Stocking ordered men to the hand 
pumps, but these were ineffectual against the inrushing 
water. The crew, many of them unused to the ways of 
machinery, all unrehearsed in the roles they were expected 
to play, dashed from one piece of equipment to the other, 
trying to make repairs. Worden and Greene tried to be 
everywhere. At nightfall, with pumps faltering, the engines 
scarcely turning and disaster near, wind and sea suddenly 
abated. The pounding on the open deck stopped and the 
Monitor rode smoothly. Newton and his men at once 
rushed to the engines. They started the fires. Danger 
seemed miraculously passed. Greene had to admit that as 
a seagoing craft his beloved Monitor was ill-fitted for rough 
weather, but he refused to give up his hopes for her as 
a fighting ship. 

President Lincoln shared Greene's hopes that night. He 
sat at his desk at the White House, talking with Assistant 
Secretary of the Navy Fox. Fox had brought fresh rumors 
that the Merrimac was ready and feared what she might do, 
unchallenged, to wooden Union ships. Lincoln reminded 
him of the Monitor: "She may yet be the veritable sling 
with a stone that shall smite the Merrimac Philistine in the 

But after midnight the wind came up again and all hands 
were called to do what they could to save a seemingly 
doomed ship. This time Webber, at the wheel, suddenly 
felt it jam and found that he could no longer steer. Now 

The "Yankee Notion" goes south 61 

the Monitor , still in tow, was out of control, plunging 
about like a calf at the end of a rope. Worden knew, if 
her hawser broke, that his ship would be driven by the 
wind smashing against the shore. 

For the second time, officers and men faced death in an 
iron shroud. As dawn broke, Worden hailed the captain 
of the towing Seth Lo*w to slacken his speed, but he could 
not make himself heard over the raging storm. Acting 
Master Stodder sent up a distress signal. One of the two 
escort vessels came near and Worden asked Captain 
Shankland, of the Currituck, to help tow him into calmer 

Once again the wind died down suddenly and once again 
the Monitor was saved. The steering ropes were cleared 
and exhausted men who were not on watch dropped to the 
deck, too 'weary to swing their hammocks. The galley 
stove had long been out. The best the cook could produce 
were dry ship's biscuits, but these the men took gladly. 
Newton still felt violently ill but stayed near to watch the 

The Monitor rode on in smooth water on the sunny 
morning of March 8. By late afternoon she passed Cape 
Charles and swung into Chesapeake Bay. On her portside 
was Cape Henry Light at the turning point into the mouth 
of the peaceful Chesapeake waters, with Hampton Roads 
20 miles beyond. On deck Worden looked to the west far 
across the water and saw an ominous black cloud rising 
from the direction of the Roads. On the pleasant spring 
air came the sound of heavy gunfire. 

At once he ordered his weary crew to strip for action. 
Both he and his men had been without sleep for forty-eight 
hours. He looked again at the black smoke billowing into 
the blue sky and he knew what that meant. 

The Merrimac was out and at large. 

IX; Black cloud on the horizon 

At Hampton Roads, the early morning of March 8, i86z, 
promised a fine day. The mist lifted early and the high 
blue sky was unbroken by clouds. A gentle breeze came 
from the south soon after daybreak. 

On the northern shore of the Roads the day began like 
any other. The Federal ships swung at anchor waiting. 
A report from reliable sources had said that the Merrimac 
would almost certainly be out on this day but no one 
aboard the ships put much stock in it. The alarm had been 
sounded so many times that it had lost its urgency. 

Captain Van Brunt, at the Minnesota's anchorage off 
Fort Monroe, wrote home of the boredom that had settled 
on officers and men: "We are tired of waiting for the 
Merrimac. We wish she would come out." Close by the 
Minnesota, the sailing frigate St. Lawrence had dropped 
anchor during the night. She had just returned from a 
cruise and the men were restive at being denied shore leave. 
Aboard the screw frigate Roanoke, Captain John Marston 
was serving as senior officer of the squadron in the absence 
of Commodore Goldsborough who, free from apprehen- 
sion, had joined the successful attack on Roanoke Island, in 
North Carolina. Off Newport News, the captain of a 
third-class vessel argued heatedly with a pilot on one of 
the tugs. His ship was the Mystic, a "dilapidated boat of 
two old-fashioned guns." Dilapidated she was, but her 
captain took pride in her. He believed that the Merrimac 


Black cloud on the horizon 63 

would soon be in Hampton Roads, and he wished the 
Mystic there to receive her. After much persuasion, he 
prevailed upon a tug to tow him into the Roads close by 
where the Congress waited. 

Aboard the Congress, young lieutenant Joseph Smith, 
son of the worrisome chairman of the Board on Ironclads, 
regretted his recent appointment to an area that saw so 
little action; he considered the possibility of writing to 
his father in Washington requesting transfer. The crew 
of his ship and of the nearby Cumberland had done their 
washing, and their garments fluttered in the soft breeze like 
gay pennons on dress parade. Sea gulls planed arching 
patterns high above the ships. For most of the men it was 
just another day of quiet boredom, waiting for an enemy 
who never came and about whom each bit of gossip out 
of Norfolk had become increasingly fantastic. 

These were the mightiest new ships of their day, an- 
chored within the y-mile crescent of the northern shore of 
Hampton Roads. The Cumberland, 300 yards off Newport 
News, was a sailing frigate, her masts and her spars etched 
high against the sky. Among her 30 guns were new and 
powerful ones, the most aggressive in the Roads. Her 10- 
inch pivots could be turned, to fire rapidly; her broadside 
guns could be employed only when they faced the enemy. 
The only method of bringing the guns on each side into 
action was by hand-over-hand hauling of spring lines that 
attached to the Cumberland's anchor-cables. In the time- 
honored tradition of warfare on wooden vessels, the gun- 
ners fired the cannon; the sailors aimed the ship. 

Twenty miles south of these fine, proud vessels, the 
Merrimac, with steam up, prepared for battle. A detach- 
ment of Norfolk United Artillery marched aboard. Gun- 
crewslandlubbers who had been practicing at gunnery 
targets were ordered to the ship. A hundred things that 

gf Tin Can on a Shingle 

were to have been done were left undone. The last all- 
important order was given: to slush down the slanting 
sides of the Merrimac's superstructure with tallow, to ward 
off enemy fire. 

At it a.m. Captain Buchanan gave the order to weigh 
anchor. The engine room bells rang. Chief Engineer 
Ramsay slowly let steam into the cylinders. Their pound- 
ing did not drown out the words of farewell that beat in his 
brain, spoken by a friend at dockside: "I shall never see you 
again. She will prove your coffin." Few in the crowds 
that lined the shore, however, shared that cheerless thought; 
the vessel began to move and, with her, the hopes and 
dreams of the secessionist states. 

More than hopes and dreams followed in the wake of 
the Merrimac as she put out into the Elizabeth River. 
William Harwar Parker, captain of one of the escort ships, 
the Beaufort, later described it: "Nearly every man, woman 
and child in Norfolk and Portsmouth went down to 
SewalTs Point and Craney Island to watch. Everything 
that would float-from Army tugboat to oysterman's 
skiff --was on its way down. Craney Island was loaded to 
the waters with spectators waving caps and kerchiefs." 
Men, women and children shared the same triumphant con- 
viction: this ship, this day, would proclaim the right of the 
Confederate States to dissolve the bonds of Union. 

It was 20 miles from the Yard to where the Federal 
vessels lay, a distance that Captain Buchanan welcomed for 
the opportunity it would give to test the Merrimac's 
engines. For their first tests the guncrews would have to 
wait, and no one could say what would happen when the 
Federal zo-inch pivots began to spit their iron. 

A few yards off, the crew could see the two gunboats in 
the convoy each with i gun the Raleigh and the Beaufort. 
Still out of sight, waiting up the James River, lay the three 

Black cloud on the horizon 65 

other gunboats of Buchanan's squadron: the Yorkwwn, 
with 1 2 guns; the Jamestown, with 2 guns, and the Teaser , 
with 2 guns. The Yorkto^n^ a former steam packet in the 
New York-to-Virginia run, was now well armed and 
carried plate abreast' the boilers and a short distance below 
the waterline. 

The Merrimac's engines were noisy and moved almost 
in rebellion but they did move and Ramsay was happy to 
learn from the pilot that, in spite of her massive weight, the 
vessel seemed to be able to do 6 knots. The quartermaster 
and the pilot knew from the sluggish response of the rudder 
and the wheel that she would be a bulky vessel to 

A call from the pilot house requested Engineer Ramsay 
to report to Captain Buchanan. 

"Ramsay," the Captain said, "what would happen to 
your engines and boilers if there should be a collision?" 

"They are braced tight," Ramsay assured him. "Though 
the boilers stand 14 feet, they are so securely fastened that 
no collision could budge them." 

"I am told," Buchanan continued, "that the Cumberland 
has the new rifled guns, the only ones in their whole fleet 
we have cause to fear. The moment we are in the Roads 
I'm going to make right for her and ram her. How about 
your engines? Should they be tested by a trial trip?" 

"She will have to travel yet some 10 miles down the river 
before we get to the Roads," Ramsay replied. "I think that 
will be sufficient trial trip." 

As Ramsay returned to the engine room he observed 
that battle orders had been given. Ammunition was being 
stacked near the gunspyramids of ijo-pound shot that 
could work havoc on wooden vessels. Surgeon Dinwiddie 
Phillips was quietly laying out his instruments. Powder 
boys stood in their places. The steward offered Ramsay a 

6$ Tin Can on a Shingle 

last bit to eat: "Your last chance. The galley fires must be 
out when the magazines are opened." 

Captain Buchanan gathered the crew on the open grating 
of the top deck. He said, "Men, you are now to face the 
enemy. You shall have no reason to complain of not fight- 
ing at close quarters. Remember you fight for your homes 
and your country. Beat to quarters." 

The crew took a last look at the open sun and air and 
returned to the cover of the gun deck. Some would never 
feel air and sun again. 

Steadily the black smoke of the Merrimac poured into 
the sky. With her two gunboats, she set out across the 
Roads. The Federal ships were but an hour away. 

The Merrimac entered Hampton Roads at i p.m. 

No one can say who first saw her, that black cloud on 
the southern horizon that seemed to bear steadily toward 
Newport News. 

It was seen at Old Point Comfort from the ramparts of 
Fort Monroe and an alarm gun sounded over the Roads. 
The entire garrison of the Fort, the Tenth Regiment of 
New York, turned out promptly under arms. They were 
addressed briefly by Colonel Bendix who proclaimed the 
long awaited action. 

One officer of the Congress saw it, took a quick look 
through his glass and shouted: "That Thing is coming 
down!" Another officer lolling nearby told him to be quiet 
and not interrupt people who had newspapers to read. The 
Captain of the belligerent little Mystic saw it, too, and 
ordered his men back to their battle stations. 

Black cloud coming, and coming straight for the Con- 
gress and the Cumberland. 

The Federal ships came to life. Down from the rigging 

Black cloud on the horizon 67 

flashed the laundry; the guncrews rushed to quarters. Up 
went signal flags on the Cumberland and the Congress to 
alert the ships that lay off Fort Monroe. The Minnesota got 
steam up at once to come down the Roads to help. A tug got 
a line on the Roanoke to pull her toward Newport News. 
The Confederate batteries at Sewall's Point fired at the 
frigates and, although the distance was great, managed to 
cripple the Minnesota's mainmast and rip the mainsail of 
the Roanoke. Not to be left out, Union sharpshooters on 
the Rip Raps sent a salvo toward Sewall's Point. 

On the Cumberland and Congress the crews waited and 
stared across the bay. As they made out more clearly the 
outlines of the Merrimac, they were the more astounded. 
She lay low in the water with nothing showing but her 
superstructure, gross and ugly, like a floating barn roof, 
with a chimney that belched cloud after cloud of black 
smoke. Not a man was visible anywhere on her: only her 
guns showed through the ports. At her stern flew the 
Stars and Bars of the Confederacy. Some thought her mast- 
head carried the French flag; others said, more plausibly, 
that it was Buchanan's blue command-pennant; others saw 
at the bow a black flag that promised death to the Union. 
Some saw her ram looking like two long iron points, about 
6 feet apart, "resembling ploughs." 

There were those who watched who would not believe 
what they saw: that this was a deadly and dangerous vessel, 
bent on destruction. Men argued that she would not fight 
without a trial run and that this was that trial. Lieutenant 
George U. Morris, on the Cumberland, having ordered his 
men to battle stations, told them to leave their places and 
continue their noonday meal. 

It was almost 2 o'clock before the Merrimac was within 
firing range. Her guns would soon discharge their shot 

68 Tin Can on a Shingle 

and, in that moment, explode forever the idea that wooden 
ships could stand up to the ironclads. With that first shot 
the day of the modern navy began. 

The Merrimac, having circled after her entrance into 
the Roads, came up first near the Congress. Trained gun- 
ners awaited her. Lieutenant Smith gave the order to fire 
when the Merrimac was less than a mile away; he would 
not lament lack of action on this day. 

The Congress' heavy shells sped on their way as gunners 
and officers watched. Such a broadside would have stopped 
any conventional ship afloat but the shells only pounded on 
the sides of the ironclad, set her waxy slush to sizzling, then 
smoking, and fell harmlessly away. 

The Merrimac returned the blast as she came on. Every 
shot hit its target and fire and death followed. The Con- 
gress reloaded her guns and waited for the Merri?nac to 
come in closer range, but the Merrimac had other business 
against the Cumberland, farther on. This was the ship with 
the most powerful weapons, but one that could not ma- 
neuver. Buchanan knew this. He headed at once for a 
forward position abaft the Cumberland's bow: at this angle 
her broadside guns would be useless. 

On came the Merrimac to be greeted by a salvo from 
the Cumberland's forward guns. For a moment it seemed 
as though the Merrimac had met her match: the Cumber- 
land's shells entered two of the ironclad's ports and put 
two guns out of commission. Nineteen men lay dead or 
wounded on the Merrimac' } s gundeck. 

She answered with broadside after broadside, solid shot 
and grape that tore into the Cumberland's gundeck. Casu- 
alties were heavy. Luck was no longer with those Cumber- 
land gunners who still lived and fired the few guns that 
could be trained on the enemy: their shots rolled off the 

Black cloud on the horizon 69 

iron sides like toy bullets. Broken bodies strewed the deck. 
Black smoke drew a curtain over the sun. Blood seeped 
along the sanded slippery decks over the wooden sides of 
the ship and dripped into the green water below. Those of 
the dead who could be moved were taken to the far deck. 

Off Fort Monroe, tugs were pulling hard at the Minne- 
sota, the Roanoke and the St. Lawrence to bring their guns 
into battle. The Congress, fearing the Merrimac's ram, had 
retired into shallow water and was now aground. The 
same fate overtook the Roanoke and the St. Lawrence and 
the Minnesota, less than a mile away from where the Merri- 
mac was making quick, bloody, smoking work of the 

The captain of the Mystic, eager though, he was to show 
the fighting qualities of his gunboat, was given pause. He 
halloed the pilot of his towing escort: "What do you think 
I should do? " 

"If I were you," shouted the pilot, "I would get just as 
far away from here as the good Lord would let me." 

"I think you are right," said the captain of the Mystic 
and did. 

Colonel Bendix, at Fort Monroe, saw the smoke rising 
over Newport News and dismissed his men. No one 
returned to the barracks. As many as could climbed to the 
ramparts and strained their eyes toward the west. 

On the Merrimac, Ramsay was reassured by the steady, 
albeit noisy, pounding of his engines. At 3 p.m., the engine 
room bell rang suddenly, shrilling over the deep pulse of the 
engines: "Reverse-Stop-Full Speed Ahead." Ramsay at 
the controls knew the meaning of those orders: .the Mem- 
mac was going forward to ram. 

He tugged at the controls and felt a shudder of response 
the churning, the plunge ahead, the fearful drive, the per- 

yo Tin Can on a Shingle 

cussive shock as the wedge of iron gored the side of the 
Cumberland, opening a hole later described as "wide 
enough to drive in a horse and cart." 

The Cumberland had been given her death blow under 
the fore-rigging on the starboard side. But her crew con- 
tinued to fight her as though there was still hope. They 
manned each gun until the rising water covered it; none 
heeded the moans of the wounded and the dying. And still 
the Merrimac poured in her relentless broadsides. A shot 
pierced the sick bay, instantly killing five men. Others 
smashed into the berth deck and the gundeck. 

Ramsay reversed the Merrimac' s engines. There was an 
ugly wrench. She backed away, her ram broken off and 
water trickling through her bow timbers. 

With water rushing through her bow ports, the Cumber- 
land listed. Men still manned the guns that were not awash; 
some worked the pumps; others moved the dead and 
injured to what they hoped would be safer ground. 

Still close, like a boxer in for the kill, the Merrimac 
moved to the stern of the wounded ship, firing all the while 
and taking harmless shot on her iron sides. Captain 
Buchanan, within hailing distance, called for the ship to 
surrender. Lieutenant Morris did not hesitate in his 
answer: "Never! We will sink with our colors flying." 

The Cumberland's flag flew proud and high. Guncrews 
kept to their work, barefooted and stripped to the waist. 
Lieutenant Morris tried to send off a boat to turn the vessel 
so that the port guns could come into use. Smoke settled 
on the deck and over the sea. The cries of the wounded 
and the dying sounded across the water and sea birds 
screamed in the distance. 

At 3:30 when his ship could take no more, Lieutenant 
Morris gave the order: "All save who can." One old 
gunner, Matthew Tenney, paid no heed. He rushed to the 

Black cloud on the horizon 77 

spar deck where one gun was still clear of the rising sea. 
In water up to his ankles he fired one more shot as the 
Cumberland went down, and he with her. The seas 
roared over the brave ship as she sank in 54 feet of -water, 
her masts high and defiant, her flag still flying. Not a man 
was captured. Those who were not dead or dying swam 
to shore or were picked up by small boats. 

Of the Cwnberlandj Lieutenant Wood of the Merrimac 
wrote in a later account: "No ship ever fought more 
gallantly": 376 men had taken her into battle; in one hour, 
12 1 of these were dead, wounded or missing. 

The Merrimac had her first victim but not without a 
price. The lost ram and the slow leak in her bow were to 
play their own part on the morrow. Her riddled stack even 
now was giving Ramsay a new set of problems in keeping 
up a draft. Two guns were wrecked and heat from the old 
engines had scorched her deck, but she was not too crippled 
to seek another victim. The crew on the Congress, aground 
nearby, watching, firing when they felt their shots might 
take effect, knew well who that victim would be. 

X: The battle, and the victory 

Slowly the Merrimac came about. Her two gunboats, 
the Raleigh and the Beaufort, were close by and were soon 
joined by the Teaser, the Yorkto<wn and the ]ame$to t wn 
steaming out from their anchorage up the James River. 
Now all six ships of Buchanan's squadron set out for the 
Congress, caught on the mud like a sitting duck. 

At a range of 150 yards the Confederate ships opened 
fire, their guns blazing death at every shot. The first shot 
killed the crew at one gun. Young Joe Smith knew that 
his ship, grounded in shallow water, need not fear the 
deadly ram. But he also knew that no defense could save 
her from the bite of the Merrimac's gunfire. The Roanoke 
and the Minnesota, both aground, were helpless. Valiantly 
Smith ordered his men to return fire for fire, but only two 
stern guns of the Congress could be brought to bear on 
their target. It mattered not: the Merrimac was impervious 
to the heaviest shot from the mightiest cannon. 

There were no minor casualties aboard Smith's ship. 
"The only insignificant wound I dressed," the surgeon of 
the Congress said later, "was that of one of the crew who 
had his hand shot off." Bodies were dismembered in the 
swift, horrible slaughter. The dying lay all about and blood 
trickled over the decks under the gentling sky of the late 
afternoon. On the open deck of his ship, face to the 
heavens, lay the body of Lieutenant Joseph Smith, the 
youth in him, and the hope, and the dreams, ended for all 

The battle, and the victory 75 

At one gun the service of powder stopped. The gun 
captain looked back for the reason. A Merrimac charge 
had killed or wounded the entire line of powder passers, 
youngsters in their teens. Fires broke out in widely 
scattered sections of the ship. Lieutenant Pendergast, who 
had succeeded to the command, issued frantic orders. On 
the decks were so many wounded that the surgeon could 
only apply tourniquets and offer brandy to relieve suffering. 

Lieutenant Pendergast ran up the white flag. 

The Beaufort came alongside to take off prisoners and as 
many of the wounded as could be moved. Federal sharp- 
shooters on shore, not seeing the flag of truce, kept up their 
fire and killed several men on the Confederate gunboat. 
Buchanan was infuriated. His stern code could not accept 
what seemed blackest treachery. He ordered the Congress 
fired at once. His command: "Pour hot shot into her and 
don't leave her until she's afire," gave no hint that he knew 
that his own brother, McKean Buchanan, was the pay- 
master on the doomed ship. 

Down in the engine room, Ramsay had a special furnace 
for heating incendiaries. Great tongs grasped a ball from the 
fire and dropped it into a bucket in which it was rushed 
to the gundeck. Powder, then wet hemp, were rammed into 
the gun. The glowing shot was rolled down the gun barrel 
and fired at once. It made a direct hit. The Merrimac had 
her second victim but, again, at a price. As he stood on the 
upper grating watching the fire spread, Buchanan was shot 
in the hip by a bullet of a sharpshooter from shore. 

Catesby ap R. Jones now commanded the Merrimac. He 
turned her greedily toward her third victim, the Minnesota, 
aground not far off. Smoke rose high against the dusk of 
late afternoon as the Congress burned. 

Great black clouds of smoke billowed to the east where 
the Monitor was rounding Cape Henry. 

j4 Tin Can on a Shingle 

The Minnesota waited helplessly and not a man on her 
decks but knew that his ship would be next. Those men 
could not guess what was happening aboard the Merrimac. 
Lieutenant Jones had given his first command: to steer the 
ship as close as possible to the Minnesota. The pilots shook 
their heads. The tide had turned and if the Merrimac were 
to get back to Norfolk that night she must retire now while 
there was yet light and a deep channel. 

The decision was a hard one for a hotheaded young 
Southerner in a shining new command. Ahead of Jones lay 
the mighty Minnesota, grounded, helpless. She would be 
easy prey. But reports were brought to him of the Mem- 
mac's leaking bow. Ramsay complained that the creaking 
old engines had been sorely put upon. The battle had 
lasted more than six hours. Light was fading from the sky 
and the tide was going out. Jones did not dare resist the 
persuasion of his pilots. As he ordered a course set for 
SewalFs Point, he saw that the Roanoke and the St. 
Lawrence had been pulled toward Old Point and the safety 
of the Fort guns. The Minnesota seemed stuck for all 
eternity. Tomorrow would be another day. 

On the Minnesota, Merrimac gunfire had drilled one hole 
in the hull and started several fires that were soon under 
control. As he saw the Merrimac withdraw, Captain Van 
Brunt looked across the Roads incredulously. He did not 
wait to verify her direction but immediately ordered crew 
and tugs to lighten his ship and float her off the rnud, As 
if resigned to her doom, she would not budge. Night fell 
on a desperate crew, scurrying over the ship, picked out of 
darkness by great bursts of light from the flaming Congress. 

Thoughts on the Merrimac, as she turned away, were 
mixed. There was triumph. Ugly tub though she was, the 
Merrimac had destroyed the best of the Northern ships. 
Clumsy though she was, she had been immune to the stern- 

The battle, and the victory 7 j 

est of the Federal guns. Her crew, against dire prophecy, 
had not gone to an iron grave in Hampton Roads, Regret 
for the deaths of men who a few hours and months 
before had been friends and shipmates, was muted. Cheer- 
ing crowds waited at the Norfolk dockside and the hulk 
of the Congress still burned against the northern sky. 
Through the night spectators on the southern shore, men 
on the grating of the Merrimac, stood and cheered and 
rejoiced as brilliant wicked flames slashed at the sky. This 
was war, and this was victory. Some aboard the Merrimac 
questioned that victory: there were still ships across the 
Roads, and men who lived and breathed and would fight. 

Unnoticed, at about 10 o'clock that night, a little vessel, 
the like of which had never been seen anywhere, had made 
its way up the Roads close by Fort Monroe. She went to 
the Roanoke where the flag of the squadron flew. Her 
orders were to proceed at once to the Minnesota. She 
signaled the shore for a pilot to come aboard, but the 
Chesapeake pilots refused to come out. Some have said 
since that among them were Confederate sympathizers who 
had no wish to aid the Monitor. It is more likely that, being 
men of the sea and not of war, they had no wish to board 
any contraptious little ship that thought it could stand up 
to the monster they had seen that day. Finally, Acting 
Master Samuel Howard of the Roanoke, a trained pilot, 
volunteered to see the Monitor through the Channel. He 
would give a good account of himself in the pilot house 
with Worden the next day. 

It was well past midnight when Worden came alongside 
the Minnesota and sent Lieutenant Greene aboard to report 
to Captain Van Brunt that the Monitor had arrived and was 
ready for battle. 

Whatever hope may have comforted Van Brunt at the 
sight of the tall and straight young officer must have been 

76 Tin Can on a Shingle 

quickly dispelled by one look at his ship. She lay low on 
the water and the few crewmen on her deck were as dis- 
heveled as hands on a coal barge. Next to the mighty 
Minnesota she was, as some seaman described her, a gro- 
tesque toy a very "tin can on a shingle." Northerners who 
had seen her entrance into the Roads had thought her a new 
type of watertank come to deliver supplies. One of the 
sailors who nervously paced the Minnesota's deck said later 
that when he saw her over the side his heart died within 
him; she "looked that contemptible." A shipmate agreed: 
"The Merrimac will sink her with one broadside." 

Aboard the Monitor that night there was little sleep for 
her exhausted crew. Repair parties were still setting to 
rights the damage done by the rough seas and preparing her 
as best they could for whatever ordeal she faced with the 
morning. When they could, they dropped to the deck for 
snatches of sleep. 

Worden returned to his cabin. He wrote his wife a 
letter that could well have been one of farewell. Simple 
and eloquent, it carried no hint of dread of the next dawn: 
"I am arrived here an hour since. . . . The Merrimac has 
caused sad work among our vessels. She cannot hurt us. 
God bless you and our little ones. Yours ever and 

Across the Roads the victors celebrated and dinner was 
not served aboard the Merrimac until almost n o'clock. 
Several detachments of her crew still worked at plugging 
the holes in her smokestack, and patching, as best they 
could, her leaking bow. On shore and in Richmond there 
was no end of celebration. It was a night for great dreams. 
On the morrow the Merrimac would destroy or capture 
every Federal ship in the Roads and break the blockade. 
Beyond that there were no limits but the imagination of the 
dreamer. The hopes of Secretary Mallory seemed fulfilled 

The battle, and the victory 77 

that night: out from the Roads, on to Washington, to New 
York, even to Boston, to bombard cities, to levy tribute, to 
win recognition from foreign nations. All that and more 
was in the Confederacy's grasp. 

A final token of Southern victory came shortly after 
midnight. The fire on the Congress reached her magazine. 
A surge of fiery splinters streaked to the stars and then, 
across Hampton waters, came the awf ul roar of the explo- 
sion of the Congress. 

Exhausted men on the deck of the Monitor jumped from 
fitful sleep, learned what had happened, and returned to a 
more restless sleep than before. 

On the Minnesota Van Brunt still tried to free his ship. 
The explosion of the Congress lit up his men as they 
worked at heaving overboard unessential gear and supplies. 

For all they knew, their own ship would go the same 
way in a very few hours and they with it. 

XI: "Worst day of the war" 

In spite of the newly-laid telegraph line from Newport 
News to Fort Monroe and Washington, news of the North's 
crushing defeat at the first Battle of Hampton Roads, on 
March 8, did not reach Washington until early morning of 
the next day. Secretary Welles many years later called 
that Sunday in Washington, March 9, 1862, "the worst day 
of the war." 

All that was known was that the Cumberland had been 
sunk, the Congress burned, the Minnesota threatened, and 
that the dread ironclad Merrimac controlled Hampton 
Roads. It was understood that the little black Monitor, 
brain child of a Swedish inventor, had arrived at the Roads 
after the battle. But no one talked or even thought very 
much about that, as fear of the Merrimac swept over the 
land. In Washington, there was no time to talk about any- 
thing but the devastating defeat of the preceding day. 

On that Sunday, Welles' "worst day of the war," the 
North indeed faced defeat. If the Merrimac should now 
have her way in Hampton Roads, the blockade would be 
broken and "King Cotton" rule once more in a prospering 
South; the Confederacy could secure supplies from abroad 
and win recognition from foreign powers; the Union cause 
would be irreparably shaken. 

First reports of the disaster of March 8 had flashed, 
during the battle, from Newport News to Fort Monroe: 
"The Merrimac is close at hand . . . the Merrimac is 


"Worst day of the war" jy 

engaging the Cumberland at close quarters . . . the Con- 
gress has surrendered . . . We want blankets for the crews 
of the Cumberland and the Congress. . . . The Merrimao 
has it all her own way. . . . We have no more ammunition 
and the Merrimac and Yorktoivn are off Signal Point. . . . 
We are towing transports out to sea to keep clear if the 
Merrimac comes down to the Fort." 

In the early Sunday morning hours the Secretary of the 
Union Army, Edwin McMasters Stanton, received from 
General Wool at Fort Monroe the first comprehensive and 
official report to reach Washington. It ended with the 
startling statement: "It is thought that the Merrvmac, 
Jamestown and Yorktoivn will pass the Fort tonight." 

Stanton rushed to the White House, brandishing the 
message like a rattling saber. 

President Lincoln at once called General McClellan and 
the Cabinet into emergency session. These leaders of the 
Union sat stunned and silent. Stanton gave little oppor- 
tunity for anyone to express an opinion. He ranted and 
stamped, glaring at Gideon Welles as though that Navy 
person had himself ordered the Merrimac gunfire. He 
raged at Seward, he glowered at McClellan, and with each 
shout and glare his prophecies of doom rose to a higher 

The Merrimac, he repeated as he paced the White House 
rooms talking to anyone who would listen, would take the 
Fort, steam up the Potomac, destroy the Capitol and all 
the other public buildings. Or she might turn and head for 
New York and Boston and demand tribute under threat of 
imminent destruction. He urged that telegrams be sent to 
all the Northern seacoast towns telling them to make haste 
to obstruct and defend their harbors. He was about to 
order the Navy Department in Washington to blockade the 
Potomac. A quarrel over Army-Navy protocol at once 

8o Tin Can on a Shingle 

arose between Stanton and Welles but abated when the 
President intervened. 

Welles had himself received a telegram from Hampton 
Roads. Hoping to soothe him, he showed it now to 
Stanton. It read: 

C7.S.S. Monitor 

Hampton Roads, March 8, 1862 

Sir: I have the honor to report that I arrived at this anchor- 
age at 9 o'clock this evening, and am ordered to proceed im- 
mediately to the assistance of the Minnesota, aground near 
Newport News. 

Respectfully, your obedient servant, 
John L. Worden. 
Lieutenant, Commanding 

If the Cabinet members heard the message, few heeded 
it in their panic. Welles finally agreed to order as many 
ships as the North could spare to reinforce Goldsborough's 
Chesapeake squadron. 

Chase was impatient with everyone as he itemized ship 
by ship, cannon by cannon, the cost of the day's battle. 
McClellan sat silent and glum; the "little Napoleon" had 
labored for months to shape raw recruits into a disciplined 
Army of the Potomac, His plan to transport them to Fort 
Monroe and thence to march on Richmond had been 
frustrated in one day, by one ship. John Nicolay stood 
close by, listening in silence. He feared for the health of 
the gaunt and grim President who studied charts, read dis- 
patches, questioned officers who brought details that had 
not been included in the first blunt message. The President, 
weary, depressed, was trying to shape a plan out of the 
chaos of defeat. Finally he asked Nicolay to send for a 
carriage to take him to the Navy Yard to confer with Cap- 

"Worst day of the war" 81 

tain Dahlgren. He left the room, head down, muttering, 
"Frightful news!" 

Throughout the battle of March 8, messages had sped 
over the wires from Fort Monroe and dispatches crackled 
out of Washington. General Wool, from the Fort, warned 
General Dix in Baltimore to be on the alert: "The Merri- 
mac might run out of the Roads." McClellan wired Wool 
that, in the event that Wool could not defend Newport 
News, he was to entrench all forces at Old Point Comfort 
and hold Fort Monroe at all costs. Wool responded by 
demanding "hard bread, flour, whiskey, spades, shovels and 
picks; 2,000 infantry, 8,000 volunteers, 5 batteries of light 
artillery and 1,100 horses." All this, to defend the North 
against one ship: a Southern ironclad. 

At 2 p.m. on this black Sunday, Captain Dahlgren, as 
Commandant of the Washington Navy Yard, after con- 
ferring with President Lincoln, settled the Stanton- Welles 
argument with a wire to General Hooker. He instructed 
the General to prepare the stone-laden barges that had been 
advocated by Stanton, and to sink them in the Potomac at 
the first word that the Merrimac had broken through the 
Chesapeake fleet. Stanton promptly carried out the rest of 
his plan and wired the governors of New York, Massachu- 
setts and Maine to defend their harbors. Quartermaster M. 
C. Meigs alerted Colonel Ingalls at Annapolis to prepare to 
welcome the Merrimac with boarding parties. 

Grim stories of the battle of March 8 settled like damp 
chilling fog over Washington and swept on through the 
North. Men gathered on street corners, in bars, in clubs, 
to tell of it and to wonder when death would strike their 
cities. Newsboys shouted it from the sidewalks. Mothers 
called their children to the shelter of their homes and then 
wondered how long the walls of those homes would be safe 
and standing. From New York, on to Newport, to New 

82 Tin Can on a Shingle 

London, New Bedford, Boston, as far north as Portland, 
the terror spread. Harbor defenses were hastily thrown up, 
harbor forts alerted against what precise eventuality no 
one exactly knew. It was as though men had landed from 
Mars to lay waste the coastal towns. 

Great as was the panic in the North, it could not equal 
the confusion that had swept during the night of March 8 
over the northern shores of Hampton Roads. Ferryboats, 
gunboats, tugboats, skittered over the waters, back and 
forth from the anchored ships to Newport News, to Fort 
Monroe. From the Fort sounded the rattle of drums and 
the blare of bugles. Men everywhere spoke of the work 
that had been done that day by the "terrible engine of war." 

As morning came, crowds gathered, some putting out in 
small boats to pull as close as they dared to the mighty 
sloops and frigates. Some saw the newly arrived Monitor 
as a "little black mass," a ridiculous "tin can on a shingle." 
Captain Fox and Lieutenant H. A. Wise of the Navy's 
Bureau of Ordnance, who had brought with them extra 
ammunition for the Monitor, watched from shore. A divi- 
sion of Troy riflemen, some of whom may have bellowed 
the furnaces that poured the iron that went into the 
Monitor's plates, watched from positions on the Fort's 
ramparts. Near them were survivors of the crews rescued 
from the Congress and the Cumberland. Negroes who had 
been slaves but had escaped by the Underground to the 
protection of the Fort, clustered in small groups on the 
embankment. They looked fearfully across the water; 
they, of all who watched, and prayed, and feared, knew the 
sickening sense of hope suddenly lit and now but faint and 

Forward of this great wave of panic and confusion, of 
hope and despair and fear, like a gallant figurehead on a 
bow, the little Monitor rocked gently on Hampton waters. 

"Worst day of the <war" 83 

The fifty-eight men aboard her were ready, by their sole 
effort, to beat back the menace that gripped the North. 
Even as panic spread out of Washington and the leaders of 
the Union and the people of the coastal towns sought 
frantically for means to stop the Merrimac, the little 
Monitor, in battle trim, lay close by the Minnesota, ready 
to do just that, on this Sunday, March 9, the " worst day 
of the war." 

X77: The Monitor, and the Merrimac 

As dawn broke over Hampton Roads that Sunday, it 
promised fair weather. The mist of the early morning 
soon cleared into the loveliest of spring days and the waters 
rippled in the first morning wind. Gulls cried high, gather- 
ing in groups, or hovered in the sky and dived fast and 
sudden for a feast. Here on the quiet waters floated frag- 
ments, or entire bodies, of men who the day before on the 
Congress and the Cumberland had seen the same sort of 
quiet March morning rise in the blue sky. 

All through the miserable night Captain Van Brunt had 
tried and failed to float the Minnesota. He knew that he 
must either offer some opposition to the Merrimac or move 
to the protection of the Fort guns. Close by, the little 
Monitor rode in the early morning wind. From time to 
time Van Brunt must have stared at her and wondered. He 
saw her crew remove her smokestack and he could hear 
the hammering, from inside the ironclad, of last minute 
adjustments. But with the dawn Van Brunt had eyes for 
only one spot: that misty place 8 miles across the Roads 
where the Merrimac was berthed and whence she would 
surely put out early. 

It was just after daybreak when the drums on the Minne- 
sota sounded beat to quarters and Van Brunt and a thou- 
sand other watchmen on the northern shore saw the large 
cloud of black smoke that meant the Merrimac was under 
way. Glasses went up as the vessel came on as steadily and 
relentlessly as an executioner down a corridor. With the 


"Worst day of the ivar" 85 

Merrimac were the Jamestown and the Yorktoivn. As the 
convoy moved, Van Brunt must have looked despairingly 
at the masts of his own proud ship, then glanced westward 
to where a few feet of the tall straight masts of the Cum- 
berland showed above the rippling water. 

The Merrimac and her escorts were not alone. A fleet 
of small boats had put out from Norfolk to follow a short 
distance off, carrying eager spectators to what would surely 
be another day's sport. As the small boats advanced across 
the harbor some of the spectators turned their glasses on the 
Monitor. They could see nothing impressive. Many mis- 
took her identity: someone said, "The Minnesota's crew 
are leaving her on a raft." 

Midway between Old Point Comfort and the southern 
shore, the Rinaldo and the Gassendi rocked at anchor: 
gunboats sent by Britain and France. Their captains had 
been ordered to Hampton Roads expressly to observe 
the behavior in battle of the two ironclads. Vital decisions, 
despite previously announced neutrality, hung on the 
reports that these captains would send back to their respec- 
tive governments after this day's first encounter.' The 
threat of foreign intervention, bearing with it the promise 
of inevitable Southern Victory, rested in this balance of 
the Monitor-Merrimac score. 

Aboard the Merrimac there had been little sleep that 
night least of all for Catesby ap R. Jones. He had 
inspected repairs being made to the bow and smokestack. 
He had probably dropped by Buchanan's quarters to see if 
his wounded commander could be moved in the morning 
to Craney Island and thence to a hospital farther south. 
Over and over he may have reviewed his plan of attack; in 
it there must be no flaw, as there had been yesterday, to 
cheat the South of the Minnesota. Jones' hope of de- 
molishing her may well have become a burning obsession. 

86 Tin Can on a Shingle 

He knew that victory would not be easy. He knew the 
Merrimac: her ancient, sluggish engines, her unwieldy bulk, 
her poor ventilation, her vulnerable propeller, and he knew 
that her knuckle where the metal shield joined the hull- 
was protected by iron plate for a depth of only 3 feet. Any 
shot that might land below that metal band could send the 
Merrimac to the bottom of Hampton Roads. 

Catesby ap R. Jones, descendant of the South's proud 
Joneses and Lees, had never shunned a fight. As a young 
lieutenant on leave in Paris, he had been wounded in a 
street brawl; years later he would die feuding in the chival- 
rous tradition of his kin. On this morning of March 9, he 
stood on the grating of his "impregnable machine of death" 
and looked intently across the Hampton waters. Through 
his mariner's glass he strained to see the little ship that spies 
had reported as having arrived in the night. 

"What are you going to do?" a junior officer asked. 

"Fight her, of course," Jones said. "She has many advan- 
tages over us if she sees them. Our knuckle is our great 
weakness. If she concentrates her fire on that she will make 
short work of us. She has nothing to do but fire at our 
water line." 

Last minute jobs had been attended to. The bow was 
once more watertight. Again, melted tallow had been 
poured over the sloping sides. Hooks and cutlasses for 
boarding parties were in their racks. Tray after tray of 
ammunition for the guns was stacked in line, all shells that 
would explode on contact and not one solid shot among 
them. Powderboys and even cooks were forming lines for 
passing powder buckets. Swabbers were ready with 
sponges that would clean the guns between shots. A few 
men grabbed up the last bits of food, slices of cold tongue. 
In his place, Surgeon Dinwiddie Phillips was once again 
laying out his surgical instruments. 

The Monitor, and the Merrrimac 87 

In the engine room Ramsay kept up the steam pressure. 
His furnaces were hot and firemen worked the coals with 
devil's claw and slice bar to make them hotter. Not for a 
second did the loud whine and protest of the engines cease. 

In the control house the pilots decided not to steer across 
the harbor but toward the east where the Merrimac could 
approach the Minnesota in a deeper channel than she had 
yesterday. On she steamed, 2 miles from the Union ships, 
then a mile and a half, then a mile and the crew stood by 
at their guns. 

On the Monitor, bedraggled men, weary but determined, 
were also at their battle stations: Webber and Joseph 
Crown in charge of the powder on the berth deck; Greene 
and Stodder in the turret. Though Alban C. Stimers was 
aboard only as a naval observer, he had volunteered to 
operate the turret machinery. At each gun was its captain 
and his crew of eight men, shirts open, rags binding their 
foreheads. Trays of solid shot had been hauled up through 
the opening in the berth deck, each shot 168 pounds of 
cast-iron, and with them their charges of powder. Reserves 
of ammunition were stored on the deck below but there 
would be little chance to pass up supplies during battle 
unless the opening in the floor of the turret happened to 
coincide with the opening in the deck. Heavy stoppers 
that now covered the gun ports must be pulled aside, with 
block and tackle, by the strong muscles of the crew before 
a gun could be run out and fired. Strips 9f sunlight, filter- 
ing through the overhead grating, splattered strange 
patterns over men and guns. The heat mounted in spite of 
the ventilating system and even on this fresh March day 
the men were beginning to perspire. 

Showing the same tense excitement as his men, young 
Lieutenant Greene who would be in charge of all gunnery 
saw that the guns were loaded and checked the lockstrings 

88 Tin Can on a Shingle 

that would fire them. In his short naval career he had never 
before held a position of such grave responsibility. Indeed, 
on this novel ship, the same could have been said of many 
who had seen longer service in the United States Navy. 

Young Greene went below for assurance that the men of 
the powder division were at their posts. Webber and 
Joseph Crown, who were in charge, would see none of the 
battle. They would be as blind to the outside world as 
rats in a plugged hole and just as helpless should a Merrimac 
shot penetrate at the waterline. Greene regretted the Navy 
order permitting the use of only 15 pounds of powder to 
each shot. But the Navy Department, where there were 
some with less faith or daring than the men who were 
willing to risk their lives on newfangled inventions, had 
insisted that the limitation remain. 

From the pilot house Worden observed the wind freshen 
and watched it toss high the smoke of the oncoming Merri- 
mac. She was only a mile away and Worden's hand must 
have moved toward the engine room controls. Through 
the narrow slit in the iron of the pilot house, he watched 
and waited, pondering, as he later revealed, three prob- 
lems. He feared the effect on the turret of a direct broad- 
side. Would the interior bolts, under the impact of heavy 
gunfire, fly through the air like bullets to tear human 
flesh? There were no replacements aboard for his gun- 
crews. Would a heavy shot jar and disable the turret 
machinery? Would it smash the iron wall? 

Worden's second concern was much the same as Jones' 
aboard the Merrimac. He feared his ship's weakness where 
the hull met the deck. A direct hit at the waterline might 
pierce the seam and, in spite of Ericsson's assurances that 
his Monitor was impregnable, her commander could only 
hope that it so. Finally, Worden was uneasy 

The Monitor, and the Merrrimac 8$ 

about the pilot house itself and the danger there of a direct 

Whether or not his worries were justified, Lieutenant 
Worden could not know. He could only watch and wait 
as a black menace, 4 times larger than the Monitor ? bearing 
10 guns to the Monitor's 2, came steadily on. Worden 
knew this: that his ship was as ready as a crew of men who 
had almost perished in a storm at sea, with little food and 
almost no sleep for forty-eight hours, could make her. 
Beside him was the pilot, Samuel Howard of the Roanoke, 
who knew the Roads well, and Quartermaster Peter 
Williams, silent and grim, his taut hands on the wheel. 
Overhead no cloud marked the morning sky as sea birds 
drifted peacefully in the light air. In another moment they 
would be screaming and wheeling away in panic. 

Aboard the Merrimac as she came relentlessly on, 
Lieutenant Jones had one advantage over Lieutenant 
Worden: a day's experience with his ship. He knew 
what she could and could not withstand. As the pilot 
reported deeper water Jones ordered, "Hard-a-port," and 
the vessel came slowly around to point straight for the 
helpless Minnesota. Jones gave the order, "Commence 
firing!" and a lo-inch shell weighing 150 pounds sped on its 
way. It fell short in what, to Van Brunt, must have seemed 
like a pitiless, brief reprieve. 

The Monitor went forward. She had been ordered to 
protect the Minnesota and the time had come, just after 
8 o'clock in the morning. 'She did not fire as she sped 
through the water but, like a terrier after a bone, dashed 
straight for the Merrimac, as straight as Quartermaster 
Williams could hold her. 

In the solidly encased turret, Lieutenant Greene felt the 
throb of the engines that meant accelerated speed. For ten 

yo Tin Can on a Shingle 

minutes the pounding continued and then over the speak- 
ing tube came the order: "Commence firing!" 

The guncrew tugged and strained at the ropes that lifted 
the portstopper. As the gun ran out, Greene, lockstring 
in hand, caught a first sight of the enemy. Just 50 yards 
away, her black sides gleamed with cold brilliance in the 
morning sun. Greene pulled the lockstring and the 
Monitor fired her first shot in battle. It scored a direct hit, 
but the limited charge of powder behind the shot was not 
enough to send it smashing through the Merrimac' s plates. 
While the crew brought the gun back for sponging, cool- 
ing, reloading and resetting the recoil mechanisma time- 
consuming operation the second gun was run out and the 
second shot was on its way while the first gun was again 
being readied. 

The Merrimac felt the Monitor's shot and, like a smart 
fighter, let go at once with all she had. Her first shell made 
a circular dent in the iron plate of the turret, a scar 2^ 
inches deep, a perfect mold of a shell. It remained there 
throughout the Monitor's career as a proud battle mark; a 
few weeks later President Lincoln himself was to finger it 
in wonder. 

The shot removed Lieutenant Worden's first worry. 
Greene reported at once to the pilot house: the shot had 
started no boltheads flying and the turret machinery still 
worked. It had not exploded against the wall but the noise 
of its impact inside the turret had been deafening. Stodder, 
who had rested one knee against the wall, was thrown to 
the deck unconscious. Greene ordered him carried below 
at the first chance provided by the swing of the turret. 

There were few other such direct hits. The Monitor's 
diminutive size gave her great advantage; at such close 
range the Merrimac could not depress her guns sufficiently 
to hit her target. As the two ships circled each other, many 

The Monitor, and the Merrrimac 91 

of the Merrimac's shells went flying over the Monitor to 
sink harmlessly to the bottom of Hampton Roads. Worden 
was reassured. He knew now that the Merrimac could not 
destroy his ship. 

As the Merrimac' } s guncrews strained to reload and fire, 
Worden ordered the Monitor to maneuver around the 
Merrimac^s stern to try to damage her propeller. The 
turret fired its second gun. This ball landed 2 feet to one 
side of the propeller and rudder, badly jolting the Merrimac 
but doing no serious damage. Had that shot been directed 
2 feet to the other side, it would have ended the Battle of 
Hampton Roads. 

Now the Monitor took another broadside from the 
Merrimac, and Peter Trescott, a gunner, was sent down 
from the turret, suffering from concussion. Many shells 
missed their mark but one landed full on the joint that had 
troubled Worden. It tore up one of the deck plates but did 
not split the seam. Worden's second worry was groundless. 
Like the turret, the joint and deck could take any shot the 
Merrimac fired. 

It was now 9 a.m. and, in Washington, the agitated 
Cabinet meeting had reached high ferment. It was not yet 
known in Government circles or in the coastal towns that 
all the sunken barges, all the hastily thrown up defenses, all 
the summoning up of all the men, could not add up to the 
strength and power and pluck of one small ironclad with 
fifty-eight men aboard her. 

At 9 in Hampton Roads, the two vessels began to circle 
each other like boxers testing strength and strategy. The 
wily little Monitor kept the Merrimac as far away as pos- 
sible from the Minnesota, the original target now forgotten 
in the Merrimac 3 s occupation with the Monitor. Aboard 
the Minnesota weary but wary guncrews stayed at their 
battle stations. 

$2 Tin Can on a Shingle 

Round and round for the next two hours Worden took 
his vessel, ordering fire at the Merrimac whenever the guns 
were ready. The Merrimac also continued circling to keep 
the Monitor in range. On the Merrimac Lieutenant Jones 
saw from the pilot house one shell after the other miss its 
mark or, finding its target, hit and fall away "like so many 
pebblestones thrown by a child." It was as clear to Jones 
as to Worden that John Ericsson had built a vessel that 
could withstand, without injury, the heaviest cannonade. 
He wished fervently that someone had foreseen the need to 
bring aboard solid iron balls rather than shell and grape. 
With solid shot leaving the Merrimac' } s guns every two or 
three minutes, the story might have been different. 

On the Monitor Greene had made some disconcerting 
discoveries. The plodding brawn needed to raise the port- 
stoppers and reset the recoil mechanism of the guns slowed 
their fire to once every seven or eight minutes. Seen from 
the Merrimac the effect must have been startling: an appar- 
ently automatic ship, no man or gun visible aboard her, 
circling against the Merrimac^ own circles, smoke blowing 
from her deck-level vents. Then suddenly, like a camera 
shutter opened, the port cover cleared away, the ugly 
muzzle of an i i-inch gun came out, fired and recoiled as the 
shutter slammed tight. 

Samuel Dana Greene later wrote a vivid description of 
these moments in the turret: 

The effect upon one shut in a revolving drum is perplexing; 
it is not a simple matter to keep the bearings. White marks 
had been placed on the stationary deck immediately below the 
turret to indicate the direction of starboard and port sides, 
and the bow and stern; but these marks were obliterated early 
in the action. I would continually ask the captain, "How 
does the Merrimac bear?" He replied, "On the starboard 
beam," or "On the port quarter," as the case might be. Then 

The Monitor, and the Merrrimac $3 

the difficulty was to determine the direction of the starboard 
beam, or port quarter, or any other bearing. It finally resulted 
that when a gun was ready for firing, the turret would be 
started on its revolving journey in search of the target, and 
when found it was taken "on the fly" because the turret could 
not accurately be controlled. 

Hideous as these circumstances were, Jones and everyone 
on the Merrimac felt the solid impact of the Monitor's 
shots, for most of them hit with a violent jolt and cracked 
iron plates when they happened to be direct hits. Splinters 
of metal had already flown high and pierced the Merrimac' s 

Although Ramsay could see none of the battle from the 
Merrimac* s enclosed engine room, he too, felt its effect, 
for the riddled smokestack made it increasingly hard to 
keep up a draft on the furnaces. Engine room smoke 
filtering along the Merrimac's gundeck choked the throats 
of the gunners. The men looked miserably toward their 
officers as if to comment that artillery on land had never 
been like this. 

It was not long before Greene, aboard the Monitor, made 
another discovery this one catastrophic. The speaking 
tubes to the pilot house had broken down, probably from 
the vibration caused by the Merrimac's shots. Now the 
young lieutenant was in the lonely world of a sealed and 
stifling iron drum. He, made decisions guided neither by 
sight nor sound but by blind instinct. He could snatch only 
the quickest look over the gun barrels when the ports were 
open and the guns run out, without the faintest hope of 
knowing what his commander wanted of him or of the 
guns. But he continued methodically, aiming by chance 
and firing when ready. 

Young Lieutenant Greene would later be lashed with 

<)4 Tin Can on a Shingle 

blame more stinging than the Merrimac*s gunfire because 
he did not aim one deadly blow to sink the Merrimac on 
March 9. In his own defense he would give a factual yet 
modest account of that day, adding: "Worden lost no time 
bringing the Monitor to her battle test. . . . Worden skill- 
fully maneuvered his quick turning vessel. . . . The Captain 
had cut out our work for us we had only to follow his 
pattern." Of his own behavior then, he would have only 
this comment: "I was twenty-two years of age, and, pre- 
vious to joining the Monitor, had seen less than three years 
service with the rank of midshipman." 

He did not add that from that meager training of "less 
than three years" had come a performance of steel as stern 
and resolute as the little ship whose guns Greene, and only 
Greene, fired in one of the great naval battles of history. 

XIII: The pigmy, and the giant 

When Lieutenant Worden discovered that the speaking 
tubes were useless, he detailed two of his staff, Paymaster 
Keeler and Captain's Clerk Toffey, to race with messages 
back and forth across the berth deck. Neither was a trained 
man of the sea and it was not surprising if now and then a 
nautical order got badly garbled. Nor could the men 
always deliver their messages promptly; they were forced 
to wait until the turret had swung into a position that per- 
mitted contact with the deck below. 

Critical though these circumstances were, Greene had 
another, even more serious, to contend with. The turret 
machinery continued to operate despite direct hits, but the 
revolving wall was heavy and hard to start in motion- 
harder to stop when in full swing. Stimers could not plan 
accurately when to release or to shut off the motivating 
steam pressure. Greene had literally no idea of direction 
when the ports were closed nor from what position the 
Merrimac fired its guns. He moved from one gun to the 
other in a chamber now steaming with 140 degrees of heat. 
He ordered the guns readied as fast as human strength 
could load them, shouted for the portstoppers to be raised, 
then peered into the sunny fresh air of another world, 
found his target, pulled the lockstring, and hoped that his 
aim would be straight and true. So it was with rounds ten, 
fifteen, twenty. Under such relentless pressure Lieutenant 
Greene had also to bear in mind the diminishing supply of 


o Tin Can on a Shingle 

ammunition and find time to order replenishments hoisted 
into the turret. 

And yet another crisis arose as hideous as it had been 
unpredictable. When the Monitor was pointed bow-on at 
the Merrimac, Greene did not dare fire a gun lest he hit 
his own pilothouse just 55 feet off the muzzle. It was a 
shattering discovery to add untold anguish to the almost 
unbearable load already borne by the young lieutenant. 

At Fort Monroe and along the shores, among the thou- 
sands who watched were many who would later write 
completely contradictory accounts of what they believed 
they saw that day. In a semicircle, vessels a safe distance 
off from the battle were like ringside spectators at a 
championship bout. The adversaries circled in their own 
tight little ring. At times the Monitor fired not 10 yards 
off from the Merrimac and never once farther away than 
half a mile. More than one stray shot from the Merrimac 
fell into the water among the spectator craft and sent them 
scurrying off in quick fright. 

"Black cannon smoke wrapped the combatants in a 
cloud" and hid them from view. When the smoke cleared 
to show the Monitor "light as a duck on the water," lusty 
cheers rose from the northern shore where the channel was 
deeper and gave the Union supporters the better view. 
Confederate sympathizers, watching from the boats, 
reserved their cheers for the knockdown blow they were 
sure would be delivered this day by the mighty Merrimac. 
The partisans of both sides knew, and later wrote of it as 
though they were imposing no great hardship on a Diety, 
that Divine Providence was with them on their Northern- 
er Southernshores, blessing their purpose, withering the 

On the Minnesota, Van Brunt did not yet dare to 
believe that his ship was safe. He later wrote of his aston- 

The pigmy, and the giant $j 

ishment at seeing the Monitor: ". . . lay herself right 
alongside of the Merrimac. . . . The contrast was that of 
a pigmy to a giant." He, too, was only a spectator unable 
to fire his guns for fear of sinking "a friend that would 
stand by us in our hour of trial." 

In the dim light of the Merrimad's enclosed gundeck, 
powder-blackened men worked as fast as they could, 
always fearful that a ball from the Monitor might come 
through their open ports. Cooks and powder boys passed 
the heavy sacks of powder and the guns were fired as 
rapidly as they could be reloaded. When a solid shot from 
the Monitor landed on the vessel's sloping sides, the gunners 
struggled to keep their footing, but worked on. Below 
deck the furnaces were fed steadily with shovel after 
shovel of coal. Ramsay watched the steam gauge with dis- 
may as the pressure dropped slowly, caused by a smoke- 
stack now so torn that "a flock of pigeons might have 
flown through it." 

Suddenly an unfamiliar vibration ran through the Con- 
federate ship. It was not the thud of solid metal on her 
sides but a nervous twitching from stem to stern, as if some 
monster had laid a heavy trembling hand on her bow. Jones 
unhappily knew the cause of that vibration and in a 
moment word from below confirmed his fear. In her con- 
stant maneuvering the Merrimac had slipped out of the 
channel and was aground. She could now look forward to 
being the same sort of sitting duck as the Minnesota, at the 
mercy of the Monitor's gunfire. 

Excited signals coursed to the engine room. All respon- 
sibility for getting the Merrimac afloat now rested with 
Chief Engineer Ramsay. He ordered the safety valves 
fastened down and shouted to his men to pile into the 
furnaces cotton waste, chips of wood, anything that would 

$8 Tin Can on a Shingle 

burn faster than coal, to build up pressure on the engines. 
Ramsay felt the periodic thud of the Monitor's shots and 
forgot his concern over machinery that had been sub- 
merged. In the hot smelly enclosure, raging flames flared 
through the doors of the opened furnaces bathing the 
sweating bodies of the men in fitful bursts of crimson light. 
The fires roared and the engines throbbed. 

The Yorktown and Jamestown had withdrawn out of 
range of the battle but when the great billows of black 
smoke showed that the Merrimac was aground they sig- 
naled their willingness to come alongside and help. Before 
an answering signal could be run up on the Merrimac, 
another shudder ran through her. Vibrating with the 
pounding pulse of her engines, she slowly dragged herself 
off the mud bar. Once again she was afloat. 

The Merrimac? s men could breathe silent prayers of 
exhausted thanksgiving, but her young commander felt 
only discouragement and rising impatience. After three 
hours of battle, the Minnesota was still unharmed and the 
Monitor free. An officer of one of the guncrews shook 
his head. He had fired repeatedly and done no visible 
damage to the Monitor. His opinion was carried back to 
Jones: "Our powder is precious. After hours of incessant 
firing I find I can do about as much damage to the Monitor 
by snapping my thumb at her every two minutes and a 

Jones knew he must devise a new tactic. He issued sharp, 
crisp orders. Again the engine room gongs clanged. If 
Lieutenant Jones could not demolish the pesky little ship 
by gunfire he would sink her by ramming, as Buchanan 
had rammed the Cumberland the day before. 

One of the Merrimac' V men, William Norris, later wrote 
of it: 

The pigmy, and the giant $$ 

Our next move is to run her down . . . now, "back the 
engines" now "go ahead" now "hard a-starboard the helm" 
now "hard a-port" weary, weary minutes. ... At last we 
have way on her, and we ram her with all our force. But she 
is so flat and broad that she merely slides away under our 
stern, as a floating door would slip away before the cut-water 
of a barge; all that we could do was push her. . . . Jones now 
determines to board her; to choke her turret in some way and 
lash her. ... At last the enemy is dead ahead. . . . Faster 
and faster, and we are all excitement, for within twenty min- 
utes the Confederate colors shall fly from the Monitor's peak. 

The pipes shrilled and the boatswain roared "boarders 
away!" but at that moment the little Monitor was head- 
ing rapidly toward the northern shore where the Merrimac 
could not reach her. As his ship turned and veered out of 
the deep channel, Lieutenant Greene ran out a gun and 
fired. That shot shook the Merrimac and opened her case- 
ment plates. It was, furthermore, the last shot in the 
Monitor's turret. Word that the supply of ammunition 
was exhausted had been communicated to Worden who 
had at once ordered his vessel out of the deep channel. 
With all speed and strength the crews set about hauling up 
fresh supplies. 

Aboard the Merrimac, Jones bitterly realized the failure 
of his desperate tactic. Grim warning came to him from 
the engine room: the glancing blow off the Monitor had 
opened the leak in the Merrimac 9 s bow. Jones knew that 
whatever he hoped to accomplish must be done quickly. 
Mistaking the Monitor's sudden withdrawal for a signal 
of her defeat, Jones turned impatiently to an aide, saying, 
"We have disposed of her. Let us see what we can do with 
the Minnesota" 

Aboard that ship, fast in the mud, captain and men sank 

700 Tin Can on a Shingle 

to black despair as they saw the Monitor pulling toward 
shore and the Menimac bearing down steadily on the 
Minnesota. At Van Brunt's command, fire spat from one 
of the Minnesota's big guns, to be answered at once by the 
Merrimac's rifled bow gun. Van Brunt said later that the 
Merrimac' s shot passed through the chief engineer's state- 
room, the engineers' messroom, amidships, and burst in the 
boatswain's locker-room, "tearing four rooms all into one 
in its passage, exploding two charges of powder which set 
the ship on fire, but it was promptly extinguished." 

The Minnesota replied with a terrific blast that "would 
have blown out of the water any timber-built ship in the 
world." It had no effect on the Merrimac. Again she fired. 
This time her shot landed in the boiler room of a nearby 
tug, the Dragon. The small boat exploded, killing or 
wounding severely its crew of seven men. 

Before Jones could follow up his advantage, he was 
again beset by the persistent little Monitor. Her brief rest 
for shifting ammunition had lowered the temperature in 
the turret to a mere 130 and Worden had ordered her 
with all haste back to the side of Van Brunt's ship. Once 
again, the Minnesota had been spared, as the Monitor 
smartly edged the Merrimac away from her a half-mile, 
then a mile, in a contest that continued for almost another 
hour. The two ironclads stayed in close combat, firing 
gun after gun. As Greene once more ordered the port 
opened and scored a direct hit, he saw that one of the 
Merrimac' *s guns was not 10 feet off his ship's pilot house. 
As the Merrimac gun fired, the Monitor's ports slammed 
down closing off the view. But the impact of a heavy shell, 
and then another, ran through the Monitor. 

In the sweltering turret Greene felt the deep rapid beat 
of the engines that meant the Monitor was running full 

The pigmy, and the giant 101 

speed ahead. A few seconds later he heard voices from 
below calling desperately for him. Turning the guns over 
to Stimers he lowered himself to the berth deck and ran to 
the pilot house. Here, clinging to the base of the ladder, 
leaning on Surgeon Logue, was Worden in a pool of blood, 
his face torn and blackened by gunpowder. Greene helped 
the Surgeon carry him to his cabin. Worden gasped that 
the Merrimac^s shot had smashed against the pilot house, 
and landed a deadly blow at the small sightholes. The 
concussion had driven fragments of cement and iron into 
Wor den's face and blinded him; it had torn off and shat- 
tered one of the wrought-iron 9-by-i 2-inch bars covering 
the pilot house. Worden's face would stay blackened for 
the rest of his life, but Surgeon Logue soon determined that 
his injuries were not fatal. 

The twenty-two year old lieutenant, now in full com- 
mand of the Monitor, went at once to the pilot house. He 
found that the damage there was not as great as Worden 
had at first supposed and that, with a simple adjustment to 
the steering apparatus, the Monitor could return to battle. 

Greene ordered her back to the side of the Minnesota. 
To his astonishment, he saw that the Merrimac, with her 
convoy, was headed not toward the Minnesota but toward 
Norfolk, away from the battle, "sagging down at her stern 
as though badly aleak." Greene ordered one salute to be 
fired from the turret and did not follow her but stayed, 
mission accomplished, at the side of the Minnesota. 

The Monitor, unharmed, wore the badges of her gallant 
service: 2 1 dents in her armor. She had been struck 8 times 
on the side plates, twice on the pilothouse, 7 times on the 
turret, 4 times on the deck. The next morning she received 
the cheers of the Union and her crew were hailed as "the 
glory covered sailors." The young man who had handled 

102 Tin Can on a Shingle 

her guns in an unrelenting barrage that turned back the 
mighty Merrimac received the following communication 
from the Navy Department: 

March 10, 1862 
Aboard the USS Roanoke 
My dear Mr. Greene, 

Under the extraordinary circumstances of the contest yester- 
day, and the responsibilities devolving on me, and your ex- 
treme youth, I have suggested to Captain Marston to send on 
board the Monitor as temporary commanding lieutenant, 
Thomas O. Selfridge, until the arrival of Commodore Golds- 
borough which will be in a few days. I appreciate your posi- 
tion and you must appreciate mine and serve with the same zeal 
and fidelity. With the kindest wishes for you all. Most truly, 

G. V. Fox 
Asst. Sec. USN. 

Greene remained aboard the Monitor and served with 
the same zeal and fidelity, in accordance with his orders. 

At Norfolk the Merrimac was hailed as a triumphant 
hero. "Whistles shrilled and guns pounded," while along 
the northern shore men also celebrated and claimed the 
victory; it was enough for each that neither vessel had 
been sunk. The next morning, G. V. Fox telegraphed 
Washington: "The Monitor is down Deceiving the cheers 
of the garrisons and vessels. We are clearing all the vessels 
out of the Roads so that the Monitor will be the sole 

After the battle, Lieutenant Henry A. Wise, of the 
Navy's Bureau of Ordnance, boarded the Monitor to take 
her wounded commander back to Washington. He went 
at once to Worden's cabin. 

"Have I saved the Minnesota?" Worden asked. 

The pigmy, and the giant 103 

Wise assured him that he had, that she was being stripped 
of her gear to lighten her draft and, with the rising tide, 
would soon be safely anchored under the guns of Fort 

Worden nodded approval: "Then I don't care what 
becomes of me." 

One of the first persons to greet Worden on his arrival 
in Washington was the President. Mr. Lincoln left a 
Cabinet meeting instantly when he heard that Worden was 
at Wise's home. 

Lieutenant Worden, sightless from the explosion, was 
told that the President waited upon him. "You honor me, 
Mr. President," he said. 

Mr. Lincoln grasped Worden's hand. "Sir," he replied, 
"you have done me more honor than ever I can do you." 

XIV: The ships, and the legends 

The "Tin Can" became, overnight, a hero to half a 

"Our cause," reported Monday morning's New York 
Times, "has had an escape and a triumph whose romantic 
form stirs the mind with mingled wonder and joy." The 
Monitor was "a heavenly directed little vessel," a rescuer 
who had arrived at precisely the right moment in the third 
act of a play. Oliver Wendell Holmes sang of "the age of 
fables and heroes and demi-gods." 

Every one of consequence wired salvos of praise to some- 
one of equal consequence, and the Monitor legend grew. It 
was to sweep the country: in advertisements for cigars "El 
Monitor" for men's hats, for household flour. Even those 
remotely connected with the Monitor would bask for a 
long time in her prestige. Ironworkers in Nashua, New 
Hampshire; in Laurel Forge, Pennsylvania; in Bridgewater, 
Massachusetts, were proud to have helped forge the Mon- 
itor's plates. Four hundred men of the Troy foundry 
marched to the home of their employer, John Griswold, 
one of the three Ericsson partners. They brandished 
torches and a banner blazoned with; "Honor to whom all 
honor is due the Monitor has saved everything inside and 
outside the Fort." Brooklyn patriots turned out to parade 
for the boys who had built Ericsson's ship. 

Ericsson, "the greatest man living," was presented with 
a golden replica of his ship, valued at $7,000 and weighing 


The ships, and the legends 105 

14 pounds. Passers-by embraced him on the street and 
public meetings called for his appointment as Chief En- 
gineer of the United States Navy at whatever price he 
cared to name. Young folk, country-wide, danced to the 
tune of "Ericsson's Gallope." 

The dedicated engineer took this adulation in his long 
even stride, joining in no celebrations but sending a forth- 
right wire to Assistant Secretary of the Navy Fox, who 
had stayed on at Fort Monroe: "Fire your guns at a dead 
level and you will sink the pirates in two rounds." 

Ericsson was at work on improved designs for future 
monitors waiting only a signal from the Navy Depart- 
ment. In all truth, he awaited more than an order for future 
work. The final payment for work he had already deliv- 
ered merely as one of the contractors for the building of 
the Monitor was not made by the Navy until March 14, 
five days after his ironclad had proven herself in battle. 
This delay could not have unduly troubled a man who, as 
the Monitor's inventor, had refused to register the patent- 
able devices in his ship. These he presented to the Govern- 
ment as his "contribution to the glorious cause of the 
Union," thereby relinquishing additional thousands of dol- 
lars that could have guaranteed him financial security for 

When, soon after the battle, Cornelius Bushnell an- 
nounced his candidacy for the Connecticut State Legis- 
lature, he found little need to campaign. The streets of 
New Haven echoed and re-echoed with the oratory of his 
advocates: "His Monitor has saved the country millions 
of dollars. . . . Let every man who appreciates the ser- 
vice Mr. Bushnell has rendered give him a vote." Mr. 
Bushnell was elected. 

Greatest esteem poured over Worden. When Secretary 
Stanton, never one to keep out of the Navy's business, 

106 Tin Can on a Shingle 

heard that the meager-salaried lieutenant might perma- 
nently lose the sight of one eye, he trumpeted, "We will fill 
it with diamonds!" Every adult and child in the Northern 
States was urged to contribute at least one nickel toward 
the welfare of the Worden family. At the insistence of 
President Lincoln, the wounded officer was eventually up- 
graded by special Act of Congress: first to Captain and, 
later, Admiral. 

But of all the tributes Worden received, the one that 
must have pleased him most came from Fort Monroe, sent 
by Fox to Welles on the nth of March. It read: "Tell 
Wise to tell me how Worden's eyes are. All the crew wish 
to know. They love him." 

People everywhere animatedly discussed the complicated 
details of the turret and its machinery. The favorite car- 
toon was a sketch of John Bull, as a plump and weeping 
lad in knickerbockers, who was enraged because Ericsson, 
portrayed as the owner of a toy shop, refused to sell him 
a Monitor. The smart set that read Vanity Fair chuckled 
over a squib, and passed it along merrily, that the British 
upper classes were setting their tables with ironware and 
shoeing their horses with silver. Self-appointed poets- 
laureate outstripped one another in the rush to publish epic 
poems in the daily press and illustrated weeklies. The 
rhythm of one such caught public fancy: 

But Hampton Roads saw another sight 
When the morning dawned on a second fight, 
For behold! the Monitor, in the night 
Had come to sustain the North. 

Gideon Welles' moody spirits soared. The Secretary 
of the Navy could now accept plaudits for a maritime 
engagement. He celebrated quietly in the early hours of 

The ships, and the legends 

March 10 by settling a small score with Secretary Stanton, 
his opposite number at the War Department. Welles 
officially suspended the operation proposed by Stanton, 
seconded by the President, and administered by the Navy's 
Captain Dahlgren to sink barges in the Potomac. But that 
action, like the swing of the Monitor's turret, proved 
topheavy and hard to handle. Quartermaster General 
Meigs, of the War Department, had it under his efficient, 
bristling wing and nothing as low, in his opinion, as an 
order from the Navy Department could halt him. He 
reported briskly to Captain Dahlgren: "How many canal 
boats do you want? . . . Fll send 8 .... Sending 15 
canal boats . . . Have sent 23 in all ... Do you want 
more?" On March 14, the conscientious Quartermaster 
was still occupied with barges; he dispatched 8 more, ex- 
plaining: "I have seen nothing yet to satisfy me that in the 
next engagement the Monitor will not be sunk." He 
added, somewhat redundantly: "I believe in precaution." 

As though in support of the War Department's feeling 
of insecurity, disturbing messages filtered in from Fort 
Monroe. "The Merrimac is being repaired and may be out 
again. . . . The Monitor is our chief defender. If any 
accident take her, it will be too bad for the North." 

The merest hint of a possible second onslaught from the 
Merrimac was disquieting. The North still loved the Mon- 
itor and polished every facet of her fame, but insidious 
doubts now crept in to deaden the gleam of the Monitor's 

Why was this Monitor the "chief defender"? Whose 
stupidity had delayed the construction of a fleet of mon- 
itors? What excuse had Greene for not having overtaken 
and demolished the Merrimac as she retreated toward Nor- 
folk? The public cried for some head to fall for the loss 
of the Congress and the Cumberland, and the narrow 

Tin Can on a Shingle 

escape of the Minnesota, and reproachful eyes focused once 
again on the bowed and be-wigged head of Gideon Welles. 
Sentiment called for his dismissal in a mood sharply etched 
by the acid comment: "All's well that ends Welles.' 7 

Suggestions poured into the Navy Department impor- 
tuning its Secretary to capture the Merrimac. He was 
advised to throw explosives down the ironclad's smokestack 
or to 'direct sprays of "liquid fire" through her open ports. 
H. K. Lawrence, a "patriot," offered his services: 

Washington, D. C. 
April 1 8, 1862 

Sir: I propose to the Navy Department to destroy the rebel 
ironclad steamers Merrimac, Jcmestoivn and Yorktoivn within 
twenty days from this date, the United States government 
paying me for the destruction of the steamer Merrimac $500,- 
ooo, and for the destruction of the steamers Jamestown and 
Yorktown $100,000 apiece. . . . The government is to furnish 
me with 2,000 pounds of gunpowder . . . and with the neces- 
sary transportation for my men and apparatus from the city 
of Washington to a point as near the said steamers as shall be 
deemed safe to venture. 

Mr. Lawrence had the honor to remain Mr. Welles' 
"obedient servant." When Welles asked for details, Law- 
rence confided that he planned to prepare submarine tor- 
pedoes and expected the Navy Department to furnish him 
with facilities and material for their manufacture at the 
arsenal in Washington. He reduced his rates to $100,000 
for the destruction of all three ships. At this point, Mr. 
Lawrence fades from history. 

As the public grew increasingly restless over the un- 
challenged existence of the Merrimac, all the principals 
involved with the Monitor sought to free themselves from 
any possible reproach. Even the aloof Ericsson stooped to 

The ships, and the legends 109 

explain that, though Worden and his crew were brave and 
noble seamen, they were not trained engineers; they had 
not known how to utilize , the Monitor's potential for 
undisputed conquest. 

The supporters of the Union fought a series of small 
civil wars whose contenders seemed, at times, as bitterly 
pitted against each other as were the North and the South. 
Not least among these were the Federal Army and Navy. 
Secretary Stanton repeatedly emphasized his belief in the 
ever-present danger of renewed attack by the South's iron 
monster. He implied that the Monitor, with but 2 guns, 
could hardly be worth her weight in iron. 

Mistrusting the Navy's ability to defend Hampton 
Roads, he demanded daily reports from Fort Monroe. He 
instructed General Wool to secure twenty old ships and 
chain them together at anchor, stretched across the deep 
channel between Old Point and the Rip Raps the egress 
to the North Atlantic. Nor was he reassured by Wool's 
response that Commodore Goldsborough believed the Mer- 
rimac was unseaworthy and incapable of venturing into 
open water. 

Stanton refused to be reconciled to any belief in the 
Monitor's effective guardianship of the northern shore. 
He asserted volubly that if Ericsson's ship would not or 
could not engage the enemy, then some other ship must. 
He persuaded Commodore Vanderbilt to sell to the govern- 
ment, in exchange for $i, the Vanderbilt, the fastest and 
largest ship in the Commodore's fleet of ocean liners. 

The Army's Vanderbilt departed for Hampton Roads 
on March 26 and, on Stanton's instruction, was delivered 
to General Wool at Fort Monroe. That nonplused soldier 
quite understandably turned her over to the Navy. Stanton 
promptly ordered Commodore Goldsborough to give her 
back. Assistant Secretary of the Army P. H. Watson, who 

//o Tin Can on a Shingle 

happened to be at the Roads, pointed out to Stanton the 
incongruity of civil war between branches of the armed 
services, and Stanton reluctantly surrendered his ship. But 
he immediately chartered, at a cost of $2,000 a day, another 
one, Vanderbilt's Ocean Queen, and dispatched her to the 
Roads. Not to be outdone, the Navy chartered the steamers 
Illinois and Arago, at a combined per diem of $2,600, in 
hasty answer to the enlarged public demand, spearheaded 
by Stanton, for decisive action against the Merrimac. 

The Monitor, meanwhile, lay at her moorings, low and 
black and threatening. 

In all the hubbub and intramural warfare, there were 
sane voices and reasoning minds. One of the earliest, yet 
perhaps the most useful, comment on the Monitor and her 
capabilities had come to General McClellan from G. V. 

The message had been sent on March 9 while cheers 
for the Monitor's performance against the Merrimac still 
resounded at Fort Monroe. The Assistant Secretary of the 
Navy knew to what an extent McClellan's Army of 
the Potomac depended upon the little ironclad for its plan 
to move up the York Peninsula toward Richmond. His 
dispatch contained a calm and assured summation of what 
McClellan could expect of the doughty "Tin Can": 

Fort Monroe 
March pth, 10:45 p.m. 

The performance of the Monitor today shows a slight su- 
periority in favor of the Monitor, as the Merrimac was forced 
to retreat to Norfolk after a few hours' engagement. . . . The 
Monitor is ready for her tomorrow. . . . [The Merrimac] is 
an ugly customer and it is too good luck to believe we are yet 
clear of her. . . . Our hopes are upon the Monitor and the 
day's work shows that the Merrimac must attend tc> her alone. 

The ships j and the legends / / / 

This unemotional statement built the bridge to the next 
developement in the Monitor's usefulness to the Northern 
cause: it motivated McClellan's decision to move thousands 
of men, the vanguard of his Army, to Fort Monroe. While 
Stanton, and his friends of little faith, recruited the mer- 
cenary services of chartered ships, the Navy's own Mon- 
itor stood off the Fort, saving, as had been said by the 
ironmongers of Troy, all without and within. 

Following the battle of March 9, every emotion in the 
North had its twin in the Confederacy. 

Joy spread through the South with stories that repeated 
and added luster to the honors bestowed by Jefferson 
Davis on the men of the Merrimac. Confederate officials 
talked of "the most remarkable victory, the greatest naval 
achievement of all time." The Merrimac had met the best 
the industrial North could produce, and had survived. 
Armored ships became the fashion, discussed over the 
candle-lit tables of Richmond and Petersburg, Charleston 
and Montgomery. The ladies of the South sponsored com- 
mittees for "Ironclad Bazaars" to raise funds for more and 
more Merrimacs. Thus did a revitalized South snatch at 
the hope born of this "victory" to believe that the War 
between the States was all but won. 

As in the North, the first waves of hysterical triumph 
were followed by bewildered doubts, then open discontent. 
Why had Lieutenant Jones not pursued the battle that the 
South had so obviously won? What bungling idiocy and 
ill-timed plan had left the great "war machine" at the 
mercy of the tides and of overcautious, perhaps "Yankee 
sympathizing," pilots? Had not John L. Porter originally 
proposed the construction of an ironclad during the earliest 
months of the war? Why had the Confederate Navy De- 

/ 12 Tin Can on a Shingle 

partment taken until July 1 1, 1861, to order the Merrimac' s 

That the Merrimac had won the battle with the Monitor 
was clear to all Southerners. But where, they soon asked, 
were the tokens of victory? The Monitor was still afloat 
bottling up the Chesapeake and a grave threat to Norfolk 
and Richmond. Where now was the Southern ship that 
was to have broken the blockade and fired on New York 
banking houses? 

Word soon spread that the conquering Merrimac was in 
drydock being overhauled. During the two days of battle, 
she had received roo indentations in her armor, of which 
it was believed that the Monitor guns had accounted for at 
least 20. The replacement of her smashed iron plates, her 
smokestack and ram continued for three weeks. Her bow 
was again made watertight and her metal band extended 
an additional foot below the waterline. Iron shutters had 
been planned but were not yet added to her ports. Men, 
women and children held lanterns during the night so that 
the repairs could speed uninterrupted around the clock and 
the Merrimac could prove, for all time, her mastery of 
Hampton Roads and all that lay beyond. 

The work was done under greatest pressure in constant 
fear that the Monitor would slip her moorings and appear 
suddenly at the mouth of the Elizabeth River. The Con- 
federacy did not then know that it was protected from an 
attack by the Monitor by specific order of no less a person 
than the President of the United States. 

On the evening of March 10, after President Lincoln 
and Worden had exchanged greetings, the President re- 
mained for a lengthy chat at the bedside of the wounded 
lieutenant. He interrogated Worden closely on the per- 
formance in battle of his unconventional ship, questioning 
quietly, listening attentively. As he returned to the White 

The ships, and the legends 

House, he may have pondered deeply one phase of Wor- 
den's information: that the flat, low-lying Monitor, gallant 
fighting machine though she was, was nevertheless vulner- 
able to capture by boarding parties. He immediately re- 
quested Gideon Welles to send a message to Fox at Fort 
Monroe: "It is directed by the President that the Monitor 
be not too much exposed; that under no event shall any 
attempt be made to proceed with her unattended to Nor- 
folk." The President seemingly knew better than bluster- 
ing Stanton the strategic value of Ericsson's ship. 

The Monitor never again engaged in close combat in 
Hampton Roads, although she was immediately put back 
into battle condition. Her pilot house was rebuilt with 
slanting rather than vertical sides, the better to deflect 
enemy shots. The hit on her pilot house had resulted in her 
only serious injury. 

The Monitor's condition spoke well for Worden's han- 
dling of her, for she was not a flawless invention. Errors in 
her plan and execution had resulted from the haste in which 
she was conceived and constructed. Worden admitted 
that she was not seaworthy; Greene had sound reason to 
know of the near-tragic imperfections in her design; men 
who later commanded her reported many unsatisfactory 
features. But none of these faults outweighed the psycho- 
logical effect of her initial appearance in Hampton Roads 
or the shocking impact of her first tenacious defense of the 
Minnesota. Waiting, on the defensive, for another on- 
slaught from the Merrimac, she fulfilled Ericsson's hope 
of making the sea "an uncomfortable place for a maritime 
bully." She was a small ship, but she represented an 
enormous idea one that neutralized the threat of the 
turret-less Southern ironclad. 

Though world opinions about the Monitor were as var- 
ied as gradations of the spectrum, there was no uncertainty 

U4 Tin Can on a Shingle 

about her in a statement that appeared, shortly after her 
battle, in the London Times: 

Whereas we had available for immediate purposes one hun- 
dred and forty-nine first class ships, we now have two, these 
two being the Warrior and Ironside. There is not now a 
ship in the English Navy, apart from these two, that it would 
not be madness to trust to an engagement against that little 

I 1 

Deck view showing canopy over the Monitor's gun turret. 

A contemporary photo of sonic of the Monitor's rrrw, on deck. 

XV: Mr. Lincoln takes a trip 

Catesby ap R. Jones' reward for his services aboard the 
Merrimac on March 9, like Greene's on the Monitor,, was 
the announcement that his youth and inexperience made 
it inadvisable for the Confederate Navy to retain him in 
command of her only ironclad. That prize plum was pre- 
sented to Flag Officer Josiah Tattnall who had been 
trained in the elegant days of gallant wooden ships and 
had "gone South" after years of glittering service in the 
China Seas, in the "War of 1812 and the Mexican War. 
Tall, pompous, florid-complexioned, with deep-set blue eyes, 
aggressive jaw and pouting lower lip, he looked as gallantly 
seaworthy as a stately old ship-of-the-line. He shared the 
South's impatience for decisive results and fully appreciated 
the heroic quality of his assignment to the Merrimac. Of 
this he wrote to Secretary Mallory: "I have been aware 
from the first that my command is dangerous to my reputa- 
tion, from the expectations of the public founded on the 
success of Commodore Buchanan." Tattnall knew that 
the officers and men of the Merrimac had petitioned that 
Lieutenant Jones be left in command. That knowledge, 
and a message from Secretary Mallory, made him all the 
more eager to show his mettle. The message had read: "If 
we can sink [the Monitor'] in the Roads, the destruction of 
every other wooden vessel will be an easy task." Captain 
Tattnall's mind was set on victory and all its prizes. 

During shackled days while the Merrimac was under 

Tin Can on a Shingle 

repair, the impatient Tattnall and his officers reviewed the 
battle performance of the "Tin Can" and knew that she 
could not be subdued by gunfire. They decided at a meet- 
ing of all the captains of the squadron that she would be 
an easy prey to boarding parties: "The results of such a 
victory," Secretary Mallory had urged, "may be some 
millions of money and, for the glory of our flag, some 
thousands of lives." 

Northern spies made their way to Fort Monroe with 
detailed outlines of the boarding plans. Once again ap- 
prehension gripped the North, and panic raced to the cities 
with fresh fear that the Monitor would be taken. Vigilant 
eyes of men aboard the ships of the Union fleet studied the 
horizon for the first sign of attack. It came on April n, 
when the Merrimac and her consorts, accompanied by the 
Harmony and another tug, steamed into the Roads. 

Aboard each escort ship were three groups equipped for 
and well rehearsed in special assignments. Some were pre- 
pared to throw explosives down the Monitor's ventilator 
shafts, others to smother her pilot house in large sheets of 
wet canvas. The third group had been instructed to drive 
wedges under her turret and jam its machinery. If these 
men knew that the Monitor had been outfitted with hoses 
especially designed to repel boarders with jets of scalding 
water, they were not intimidated by that fact. Each man 
stood ready to perform his special task. But completion of 
the carefully laid plan called for the assistance of the Mon- 
itor: to be boarded she must first emerge from the shallows 
into the deeper water where the Merrimac and her escorts 
could come aboard. And that, in accordance with Mr. 
Lincoln's plan for her, is precisely what the Monitor did 
not do. 

The first warning signal came from the Minnesota at 7 
a.m.: "Beat to quarters." The response could not have 

Mr. Lincoln takes a trip 7/7 

been more flattering to TattnalFs ambitions. "All the 
transports and vessels cleared out from the upper roads. 
Several of them were crowded with troops and moved 
down out of danger. Steam tugs ran whistling and scream- 
ing about, towing strings of vessels behind them, whilst 
sloops, schooners and brigs, taking advantage of what air 
there was, got up sail and moved out of harm's way." 

The Union fleet moved a short distance off the northern 
shore where it had been anchored in two columns. To east- 
ward were the Minnesota, Vanderbilt, and several other 
vessels. Toward Newport News, some 6^> miles from 
Old Point, was a second column composed of gunboats and 
the chartered steamers Oriole, Arago, Illinois, and Ericsson, 
with the Baltimore, a fast side-wheeler formerly owned by 
the Charleston Line. The Rhode Island, a supply ship well 
equipped with guns, was close by the Monitor z$ she 
would be again, off Cape Hatteras, on a fateful day in late 

The British Rinaldo and the French Gassendi were at 
the same neutral anchorages, midway between the Rip Raps 
and Fort Monroe, from which they had observed preceding 
Battles; still under orders from their governments to report 
any weak chink in the Monitor's armor; ever alert to the 
British and French self-interest that might favor official 
recognition of the Confederate States. 

Between the two columns of Union ships, like a ballerina 
poised before her entrance, was the Monitor, accompanied 
by a small, and only partially-armored ship, the Naugatuck. 
Lieutenant William Jeffers, who had succeeded Thomas O. 
Selfridge in command of the Monitor, had been given 
specific instructions to wait, on the defensive, for an attack. 

The Monitor, steam up, her men eager to finish the work 
begun on March 9, looked in vain for the Minnesota's signal 
to advance. It never came even when the Raleigh and the 

Tin Can on a Shingle 

Beaufort captured, and hoisted their colors on, three small 
Federal vessels that had too long delayed their return to 
shore. They were two brigs, the property of the Quarter- 
master's Department: . the Marcus and the Saboah, and a 
schooner, the Catherine T. Dix. The Merrimac did not 
attack. For the next four hours, her guns silent, she steamed 
about hoping to lure the Monitor into the deep channel. 
She took a position midway between Newport News and 
SewalTs Point, careful to stay out of the range of the guns 
of Fort Monroe. 

The Monitor's refusal to accept his challenge was an 
unsettling blow to Captain Tattnall. On entering the 
Roads, he had ppened an address to his men with, "My 
good fellows," and had closed it with, "Now you go to 
your stations and I'll to mine!" and had climbed majesti- 
cally to the grating of his ship where he "seated himself 
coolly in an armchair." As fruitless hours passed, his 
aplomb ebbed with the diminishing hope that the Monitor 
would come out and initiate the fight. His latent suspicions 
burgeoned into certainty that the Union fleet was trying to 
lure his ship to Newport News, "entangle her in obstruc- 
tions," and then advance to bombard Norfolk. Tatmall's 
fervor shrank as the history-making battle that he coveted 
developed into what seemed an attenuated chess match. 
The same sort of circumstance that locked the Monitor 
under the guns of Fort Monroe also held the Merrimac in 
check. To the North, McClellan, after many delays, was 
finally besieging Yorktown; to the South were Huger's 
Confederate divisions and a new ironclad, the Richmond, 
under construction at the Gosport Navy Yard. Neither 
side dared to risk the capture of its foremost ship. 

After hours of futile cruising about, Lieutenant Jones 
reported to Captain Tattnall that the Merrimac's signal 
corps officer had received instructions from shore not to 

Mr. Lincoln takes a trip 

attack but to return at once to Sewall's Point. Tattnall 
glared angrily toward Norfolk in the direction of General 
Huger and his troops. "Huger has outwitted me,' 7 he 

"The order is peremptory, sir," Jones ventured, politely. 

Captain Tattnall sprang from his chair. "Do what you 
please," he barked. "I leave you in command. I am going 
to bed." He went below. For the second time in his career 
Lieutenant Jones was left in command of the Merrimac. 

A little before sunset, as if to issue one more wistful in- 
vitation, the Merrimac fired a shot toward Fort Monroe. 
It was answered by one of the new long-range guns on the 
Naugatuck with a shot that traveled an estimated 35/2 miles 
to fall just short of the position of the Beaufort. "Blamed if 
they wasn't shooting me," exclaimed Bill Arp, a Con- 
federate seaman, "before I knew they was in the county." 

This was the sum of the battle of April n. Just after 
sundown, the Confederate ships retired to moorings off 
SewalPs Point. A few days later the entire squadron with- 
drew to Norfolk, the Merrimac for further repairs to 
her engines. Jones later said, "Commander Tattnall com- 
manded the Merrimac forty-five days of which time there 
were only thirteen days that she was not in dock or in the 
hands of the Navy Yard." 

Of what happened or failed to happenon April n, 
there are conflicting accounts. The South claimed that, at 
the alarm from the Minnesota, the Union ships fled out of 
the Roads or retreated to Fort Monroe. Viewers on the 
northern side stated in direct opposition that .their fleet had 
weighed anchor and, "engines turning lazily, drifted east- 
ward," waiting only for the right moment to bear down 
upon the Merrimac. 

Opposing explanations were made by both commanders. 
Goldsborough's was that "the Merrimac and her consorts 

120 Tin Can on a Shingle 

all made their appearance yesterday morning and remained 
between SewalTs Point and Newport News, out of gunshot 
from Fort Monroe and the Rip Raps until late in the after- 
noon when they returned to their anchorage. Had the 
Merrimac engaged the Monitor, which she might have 
done, I was quite prepared with several vessels ... to run 

her down." 

Balanced against that is TattnalTs report: We passed 
the battery and stood directly for the enemy for the pur- 
pose of engaging him and I thought an action certain. . . . 
Before, however, we got within gunshot, the enemy . . . 
retired with all speed under the protection of the guns of 
the Fortress, followed by the Virginia until the shells from 
the Rip Raps passed over her. The^ Virginia was then 
placed at her moorings at SewalTs Point." 

Wherever the truth lay between the completely conflict- 
ing stories, it was apparent that neither side, North or 
South, wished to start an engagement-on that day, or 
during the dreary weeks ahead. 

The Monitor men kept a "bright lookout" toward the 
south, but the Merrimac 's black smoke failed to show on 
the horizon. In the following weeks, the Monitor was busy 
taking aboard coal and oil for the engines; belting for the 
blower fans; hand grenades and canisters; incendiary shot 
and shells. Mechanics came over the side to complete the 
restoration of the pilot house. Senator Hale, Chairman of 
the Senate Naval Committee, and a "large party of ladies 
and gentlemen" arrived to appraise the wondrous little 
ship. The Assistant Secretary of the Navy returned and 
brought with him two Senators, eager to tell their con- 
stituents of their exciting visit. 

With no alternative but to brood over their uselessness, 
the crew of the Monitor sat down to write to their former 

Mr. Lincoln takes a trip 222 

USS Monitor, Hampton Roads 
April 24, 1862 
Dear Sir: 

These few lines is from your own crew of the Monitor, 
with their kindest love to you their Honored Captain, hoping 
to God that they will have the pleasure of welcoming you 
back to us again soon, for we are all ready able and willing to 
meet Death or anything else, only give us back our Captain 
again. Dear Captain we have got your Pilot-house fixed and 
all ready for you when you get well again; and we all sincerely 
hope that soon we will have the pleasure of welcoming you 
back to it. ... We are waiting very patiently to engage our 
Antagonist if we could only get a chance to do so. The last 
time she came out we all thought we would have the Pleasure 
of sinking her. But we all got disappointed for we did not 
fire one shot and the Norfolk papers says we are cowards in 
the Monitor and all we want is a chance to show them where 
it lies with you for our Captain we can teach them who is 
cowards. But there is a great deal that we would like to write 
to you but we think you will soon be with us again yourself. 
But we all join in with our kindest love to you, hoping that 
God will restore you to us again and hoping that your suffer- 
ings is at an end now, and we are all so glad to hear that your 
eyesight will be spaired to you again. We would wish to write 
more to you if we have your kind Permission to do so but 
at present we all conclude by tendering to you our kindest 
Love and affection, to our Dear and Honored Captain. 

We remain untill Death your Affectionate Crew 


The Monitor Boys were not alone in their discontent. 
Their reaction was shared by many indignant citizens in 
the North. The daily newspapers in Union towns casti- 
gated the "humiliating disgraceful affair" and hurled insult- 
ing broadsides in partial relief from the still tormenting, 

122 Tin Can on a Shingle 

and very real, terror of the Merrimac. The most vulnerable 
target was, as usual, "Gideon Welles who spent sleepless 
nights and prayerful days trying to convince his detractors 
that he had not solely been responsible for the Monitor's 
failure, on two occasions, to destroy the Merrimac. He 
listed the factors that had contributed to the Monitor^ 
delayed arrival in Hampton Roads, on March 9. He was 
not free to disclose that the defensive role the Monitor had 
played on April n had been on instruction from the 
highest source. No one cared what he said, or even 
bothered to listen. Welles' "imbecility" had "paralyzed 
the best sailors and the best Navy in the world. ... If the 
rebels will only send a gunboat or two down the Potomac 
and throw a large shell into the sleeping apartment of the 
venerable head of the Navy Department, we will forgive 
them all the damage they may do us in a year." 

The situation was custom-built for the quick temper 
and sharp speech of the Secretary of the Army. Stanton 
was not given to discreet silence where the faults of the 
Navy were concerned. He had never been able to rid him- 
self of the dread that the Merrimac would escape into 
Chesapeake Bay and lay siege to Washington. He now 
nursed a more appalling thought. He was convinced ^that 
the Merrimac could slip past Newport News at night, 
steam up the James River and attack from the rear Mc- 
Clellan's regiments, encamped before Yorktown. Nor was 
the Merrimac his only plague. She merely added to^the 
almost insoluble problem Stanton had in his own bailiwick: 
the uncontrollable, enigmatic, self-assertive personality of 
General George B. McClellan. 

General McClellan was well called by his devoted troops 
"Little Mac-the Young Napoleon." The General had a 
lively and very set mind of his own, and dreams of power 
that went as high as the Presidency of the United States. 

Mr. Lincoln takes a trip 123 

No amount of persuasion from Stanton or the President 
could hasten him along the route that led to Richmond. 
His march up the York Peninsula between the James and 
York Rivers, began on April 4 and halted for a month 
before Yorktown. The South's General Magruder was 
encamped there; McClellan relied heavily on the frequently 
exaggerated reports of Pinkerton detectives to inform him 
of the numbers of the enemy troops. He refused to budge 
without more supplies, more ammunition, more guns, more 
men. He demanded gunboats and ironclads to back up his 
advance and help reduce the Confederate forts that blocked 
the way along the shores of the James River. 

Stanton informed McClellan that, with the Merrimac at 
large, as many reserves as Washington could safely spare 
had already been assigned to the Peninsular Campaign. 
Gustavus Fox stated flatly that he did not think that the 
Navy should be required to "lift the Army of the Potomac 
out of the mire"; with the Merrimac still afloat, no ships 
could be sent out of Hampton Roads. Radicals in Wash- 
ington implied that the General, sympathetic toward the 
South, was secretly conspiring to weaken the capital's 
defenses. Rabid Republicans believed that he was more 
interested in "rebuilding the Democratic Party than in the 
Army of the Potomac." 

These were the vexations that Stanton brought daily to 
President Lincoln. Neither knew quite how to cope with 
them, but Stanton pounded away at the need for action. 
McClellan's tactics, he said, "would shake the Administra- 
tion to pieces," and "spell the ruin of the nation." On 
April 1 6, President Lincoln sent a terse message to Mc- 
Clellan: "You must act." Stanton followed it up imme- 
diately with: "Let us have Yorktown and Magruder and 
his gang by May i, and the job will be done." 

May i, 1862 passed, and Yorktown was not taken. 

124 Tin Can on a Shingle 

In spite of the creeping pace of McClellan's advance up 
the York Peninsula, the Confederacy was unnerved by it, 
and feared an ultimate thrust toward Richmond. The 
South's concern deepened when, on May 5, McClellan 
finally moved into Yorktown and Magruder's men fell back 
for the defense of the Confederate capital. Events were 
shaping the course of another significant assignment for 
the Monitor. 

Stanton learned by way of spies that Huger's 15,000 
men were slowly being moved out of Norfolk. They were 
marching north by a circuitous route to bolster the defenses 
around Richmond. The Secretary of War believed that 
Norfolk's weakened position provided the precisely right 
circumstances for the Army, under the orders of Edwin 
McMasters Stanton, to cross the Roads and take the city. 

But the transportation of troops from Fort Monroe to 
Norfolk would require the co-operation of the naval forces 
at Hampton Roads. Stanton did not wish to deal with the 
Navy's Gideon Welles. He knew that the only person who 
could issue orders to the Navy, as well as the Army, was 
the President of the United States. Stanton wished to 
travel to Virginia in speed, comfort and style. To meet 
these requirements, his beady sights were trained on the 
Miami, the fastest and finest of the revenue cutters. The 
Miami could be procured for the journey only by special 
order from the Treasury Department. 

The wily Stanton puzzled through these problems of 
protocol. On the night of May 5, he came up with an 
adroit solution: he prevailed upon Mr. Lincoln and Mr. 
Lincoln's Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Salmon P. Chase, 
to accompany him down the Potomac, on a trip to 
Hampton Roads. 

XVI: "Admiral-General Lincoln" 

President Lincoln boarded the Miami on a dreary, rain- 
swept night. His tall hat and loosely draped clothes created 
a simple and homespun impression for one in command of 
a great Army and Navy. The two Cabinet members by 
his side were of far greater notability: Stanton, stern-faced, 
heavy-set, his manner as assured and uncompromising as 
a brilliant trial attorney; Chase, tall and massive, the 
Euclidean scholar, the rigid churchman and future Supreme 
Court Justice, prideful in his bearing, immaculate in his 
dress. If Mr. Lincoln's shoulders drooped, the burden they 
carried may have been, not the problems of war and state, 
but the knowledge that he was to spend the next days in 
close quarters with these two dynamic, dedicated, and 
utterly humorless men. In their company, a cruise down 
the Potomac on a wind-swept, wet Spring night, may have 
seemed a very grim prospect. 

But Mr. Lincoln was a patient man, with shrewd under- 
standing of those he chose to have about him, Stanton 
could be argumentative and provoking; the President ad- 
mired his qualities of quick decision and ability to get things 
done, his direct approach to any target. With character- 
istic foresight, Stanton had included in the party a fourth 
member: General Egbert L. Viele. General Viele had 
already been chosen military governor of the occupation 
of Norfolk so certain was Stanton of the success of his 

Tin Can on a Shingle 

Continued bad weather delayed the Miami in Chesa- 
peake Bay. It did not reach Fort Monroe until the evening 
of May 6. The President's party at once boarded the 
Minnesota to confer with Commodore Goldsborough and 
later went to the Fort as the guests of General Wool. The 
next day, like any group of zealous sightseers, they toured 
the Roads, inspecting the Fort and the detachments on 
the Rip Raps. They examined the new war fittings of the 
Vanderbilt, reserving for the last a prolonged tour of the 
Monitor. Mr. Lincoln silently studied her numerous battle 
scars, and must have thought of the significant day when he 
held in his hand a black, toy-sized model and had recom- 
mended it to the Board on Ironclads. 

In late afternoon the Merrimac left her moorings at 
SewalFs Point and the important visitors hastily retired to 
the Fort. The Southern ship proceeded slowly and without 
menace toward Craney Island. It was not learned until later 
that she had been ordered there to await a moment of 
chance to steal past the Newport News guns and escape 
toward Richmond. 

Having familiarized himself with the locale and con- 
ferred with principal officers of the Army and Navy, the 
President was ready, on May 8, to issue his commands. At 
his order, the Galena and two wooden gunboats were sent 
up the James River to support McClellan. Mr. Lincoln 
then turned his attention toward his pet ironclad: the 
Monitor, in company with the smaller Naugatuck, was 
ordered to proceed across the Roads to bombard Sewall's 
Point. They were to be followed by the Minnesota, 
Vanderbilt and other vessels whose captains carried Mr. 
Lincoln's instructions to close in and ram the Merrimac if 
she appeared and attempted to engage the Monitor in close 

"The demonstration resulted," Goldsborough wrote 

"Admiral-General Lincoln" 127 

later, "in establishing the fact that the number of guns on 
Sewall's Point ... is not greater than 17 and the number 
of men now stationed there is comparatively limited." 

That night, the captain of a tugboat, the /. B. White, 
slipped away from the southern shore across dark Hamp- 
ton waters and brought further reassurance to the North: 
the Confederates were making preparations to abandon 
Norfolk and the Gosport Navy Yard. 

The next day, May 9, was a lively one for the strategists 
of the Presidential party. There was, first, the need to 
check the validity of the report that had been given by the 
captain of the /. B. White. Toward that end, the President 
rose early and ordered a tug to take him and Stanton out 
to the Monitor. He wished to deliver his instructions in 
person to the commanding officer, Lieutenant William 
Jeffers. As on the previous day, he wished the Monitor to 
lead the ships across the Roads to Sewall's Point: "to 
ascertain whether those works had been abandoned or 

Stanton had previously issued orders to General Wool 
to have ready a force of 6,000 men, prepared to embark 
on transports. Chase had gone eastward in the Miami to 
explore the south shore for a possible landing for Union 
troops. He found one at a lonely spot near Willoughby's 
Point on a long narrow sand spit that stretched out from 
the southern shore to within 5 miles of Old Point Comfort. 

Pleased with the results of his scouting, Chase hurried 
back to the Fort and found the President in quiet confer- 
ence with a pilot. Mr. Lincoln nodded to his Secretary 
and remarked casually that he had settled on an admirable 
location for the debarkation of troops on the southern 
shore. The President and the pilot boarded the Baltimore 
with Stanton; Chase, somewhat deflated, followed in the 
Miami to where Mr. Lincoln was standing on the beach 

128 Tin Can on a Shingle 

very near the spot previously selected by the Treasury 
Department. The Norfolk Ferry leaves today from the 
land President Lincoln trod. 

The party hurried back to the Fort to discuss with 
General Wool the next phase of the operation. The Presi- 
dent watched, from Army headquarters, as the little 
Monitor led the Union ships toward the Confederate shore 
to fire their guns on SewalTs Point. 

Their action was returned by spasmodic gunfire from 
the Confederate batteries. For a third time the Merrimac' s 
black smoke signaled her approach. When she emerged 
from the Elizabeth River to be confronted by the Monitor 
and other ships of the squadron, the Merrimac promptly 
retired. The Federal ships, having completed their ex- 
ploratory assignment, returned to their own side of the 

Toward evening, desultory firing again crackled from 
SewalPs Point. At the same time, Union troops began to 
embark, prepared to occupy Norfolk. At 9 p.m. lookouts 
in the tops of the Merrimac' 's escort ships saw "shells burst- 
ing in the direction of Willoughby's Point"; at daylight, on 
May 10, the captain of the USS Dacotah reported that the 
vanguard of General Wool's regiments were landing on the 
southern shore. 

The surrender of Norfolk proceeded as smoothly as an 
expertly directed pageant. As early as March 26, the 
Confederate Secretary of the Navy had made grudging 
obeisance to the threat of the Monitor by ordering, as a 
precautionary measure, the removal from the Gosport Yard 
of all surplus machinery and tools. He had also urged the 
speedy completion of two gunboats and the ironclad Rich- 
mond, which was rumored to be even mightier and more 
fearsome than the Merrimac. Early in May, Mallory had 
warned that Norfolk's position was perilous, and urged 

"Admiral-General Lincoln" 12$ 

that the Richmond be burned, "if need be at a day's notice." 
During the night of May 8, the uncompleted Richmond 
was secretly towed up the James River, far to the west of 
the Federal artillery. By the loth of May, Norfolk had 
been practically abandoned. Only 6,000 troops remained 
and those General Huger was moving out with all speed. 

Obligingly, General Wool seemed in no hurry to move 
in. He ordered his regiments on at a pace so leisurely that 
civilian-bred Secretary Chase, with no training in the long 
marches of the infantry, easily fell in step on this deliberate 
but no less triumphant approach to a conquered city. At 
4:30 in the afternoon, Mayor W. W. Lamb surrendered 
Norfolk to the Union forces. 

Two thousand men of the local Confederate regiments 
had managed hasty farewells to families and friends and 
fled before the Federal advance. More than one-fourth 
would never return. 

They were the finest of the Virginia Regiments: the 
Blanchard Grays, the Jackson Grays, and the Wilson 
Guards. Some went to Petersburg, others farther south, 
still others marched to stand before Richmond. The men 
of the Craney Island Artillery were to be at the Battles of 
Malvern Hill and Gettysburg; the Norfolk County Rifle 
Patriots would give a good account of themselves at the 
Battle of Seven Pines. The men of one of the proudest of 
the Virginia Regiments, the Old Dominion Guard, "were 
among those who had seized the Gosport Navy Yard in 
1 86 1 and had since served on Craney Island. They were 
brave and young all under twenty-one." 

These county regiments left their kin under the none- 
too-benign rule of Stanton's General Viele. Women of 
Norfolk and Portsmouth had tended the wounded, sewed 
for the recruits who could not afford to provide their own 
uniforms, knitted wristlets and socks, and made soups and 

Tin Can on a Shingle 

pies and jams to soften the hardship of Confederate war 
days. They were left to pick up their lives as best they 
could in lonely homes in cities now governed by the 
North. Norfolk and Portsmouth were never again held 
by the Confederacy. 

The only participant who seemed totally unprepared 
for the fall of Norfolk was Josiah Tattnall. Huger had 
again "outwitted" him. 

Instead of freeing the Merrimac to escape up the James 
River with her consorts on the night of May 9, General 
Huger had insisted that the invaluable ironclad be re- 
tained off Norfolk to cover the evacuation. At 10 p.m. 
on May 10, Captain Tattnall observed that the Confederate 
flag no longer showed on SewalTs Point. He dispatched 
Lieutenant Jones to Craney Island, where the colors still 
flew. Jones returned with the incredible announcement 
that the enemy had occupied Norfolk, and that Craney 
Island would soon be abandoned. He reported the Navy 
Yard in flames; on reaching the city he had found no trace 
of General Huger who, with all his officers, had already 
entrained for Richmond. 

Captain Tattnall, whose imagination had been so stirred 
by his own image as commanding officer of the South's 
Merrimac, had now to choose between abandoning her 
or trying, by some desperate means, to free her from the 
threat of capture. 

He summoned his pilots. They assured him that, with a 
draft of 1 8 feet, they could take the Merrimac to within 
40 miles of Richmond. Tattnall assembled "my good 
fellows," and addressed them with traditional, salty, quick- 
ening words. All hands gave him three lusty cheers and 
pitched in to lighten the Merrimac. Whereupon the Cap- 
tain, quite understandably "not feeling well," once again 

"Admiral-General Lincoln" 

turned over his ship to his executive officer and "went to 

Five or six hours later, Lieutenant Jones reported that 
the Merrimac was ready for her perilous voyage. But 
Chief Pilot Parrish refused to take the responsibility of 
guiding the bulky ship up the James River because of shift- 
ing winds that made her 1 8-foot draft still too hazardous. 
The Merrimac 1 s waterline was now so high that her exposed 
wooden hull could have been shattered by any Monitor 
shot. Captain Tattnall made the heartbreaking, inevitable 
decision. His first thought was "to save the crew for any 
future use": he landed them at Craney Island. Proceeding 
by way of Suffolk, they marched to join the Confederate 
forces 22 miles away. 

For a third time, Tattnall turned over the Merrimac to 
the young executive officer who had served on her since 
the glorious day of her resurgent commissioning. Catesby 
ap R. Jones and Lieutenant John Taylor Wood were given 
the pitiless duty of lighting the slow match that ended the 
Merrimac' 's career. 

A little before dawn on the morning of May 1 1 black 
Sunday this time for the South the Merrimac blew up with 
an explosion that shook the southern earth. Secretary 
Stanton thought it "one of the most beautiful sights ever 
beheld." Captain Tattnall wrote of it less aesthetically 
several days later from Richmond: "The Virginia no longer 
exists, but 300 brave and skillful officers and seamen are 
saved to the Confederacy." 

How brave they were, how skillful they were, and how 
wise was Tattnall's decision were soon proved. McClellan's 
long delay before Yorktown, allowing the South time to 
build unassailable defenses, cost the North the capture of 
Richmond. On May 15, the footsore and weary Merrimac 
men joined their compatriots at Fort Darling, on Drury's 

Tin Can on a Shingle 

Bluff, 8 miles south of Richmond. They repulsed Northern 
ships that had steamed up the James to within sight of the 
towers of the Confederate capital. One of those ships, to 
which the Merrimac crew gave undivided attention, was 
the Monitor. 

Commodore Buchanan later wrote to his former officers 
and men: "The destruction of the Merrimac saved Rich- 
mond, for if you all had not been at Drury's Bluff, Rich- 
mond would have been taken." 

But on the nth of May, the Monitor had not yet met 
even partial defeat. She spearheaded the victorious advance 
of the Northern ships across Hampton Roads and stood 
proud for all her tin can size before Norfolk. Mr. Lin- 
coln and his Secretaries, with Commodore Goldsborough, 
disembarked from the Baltimore. In an open carriage, they 
made a triumphal tour through Norfolk and to Portsmouth, 
where the still smoldering hulk of the Merrimac was 
reduced to charred and smoking ruins. 

The vessel that was to have bombarded New York and 
won the war had ceased to exist. To every Southerner the 
loss was personal, as though someone dearly loved had died. 
Among the crowds in the cities, in the small towns, in the 
groups clustered along the countryside, it was as though 
life, too, had stopped for the living. Then came the freez- 
ing, sickening grip of reality and, out of that, mourning, 
then anger, then mob violence. The Merrimac, "that noble 
gift of Providence," was really gone. Editorialists hurled 
their fury into black and bitter type, outraged by "the 
most terrible blunder of the war, a stupendous piece of 
folly ... a confession of impotence . . . mismanagement 
and wretchedness too painful for consideration." 

In time, at his own request, Josiah Tattnall faced a court 
of inquiry to defend himself against Mallory's charge of 
"culpable negligence and improvident conduct." The pro- 

"Admiral-General Lincoln" 

ceedings resulted in a judgment that circumstances, though 
they did not justify, might well excuse the Captain's action. 
This backhanded acquittal appeased neither Tattnall nor 
his men: they demanded a full court-martial. Mallory, 
hardly daring to belittle the heroes of March 8 and of 
Drury's Bluff, answered that the Captain alone was respon- 
sible. The Merrimac's men and Catesby Jones was most 
vehement among them clamored for their commanding 
officer to be heard and cleared. 

Tattnall, "after serving fifty years with unblemished 
reputation," pleaded eloquently in his own defense. He 
pointed out that not only had the Northern fleet been 
augmented after March 8, but that his own vessel was not 
seaworthy: "I was in command of a ship that would 
not go to sea nor even into Chesapeake Bay." His state- 
ment was corroborated by Commodore Buchanan who 
claimed that, on any extended voyage, the Merrimac would 
have foundered before she reached Cape Henry. Lieu- 
tenant Jones concurred in that opinion. Ramsay repeated 
the advice that he had given on April 5: the Merrimac must 
constantly be kept close to the Yard for emergency repair. 
On five trips from Norfolk, he said, the Merrimac's engines 
had failed twice and on one occasion she had barely man- 
aged to get back to the Yard. Tattnall bitterly attacked 
the "much deeper stain" the use in war of civilian pilots, 
unbound by Navy discipline, who had been unwilling, on 
March 8 as well as May 10, to face the legitimate risks 
of war. 

Tattnall concluded his defense: 

Thus perished the Virginia and, with her, many high-flown 
hopes of naval supremacy and success. That denunciation, 
loud and deep, should follow in the wake of such an event 
might be expected from the excited mass . . . who recognize 

Tin Can on a Shingle 

in public men no criterion of merit but perfect success. But 
he who worthily aspires to a part in great and serious affairs 
must be unawed by the clamor . . . looking to the right- 
judging few . . . and patiently waiting for a calmer time . . . 
when full justice, though tardy, will be done to his character, 
motives, and conduct. 

It becomes clear why no members of the crew, though 
they were stirred by them, ever directly quoted Captain 
TattnalTs battle addresses. They liked his drift; they just 
could not follow his sentence structure. At the conclusion 
of the reading of his statement, Captain Tattnall may have 
stalked from the room and perhaps, in the manner he liked 
to wear for battle, seated himself "coolly in an arm chair." 
The verdict was handed down in his favor: "Whereof the 
Court do award to the said Captain Josiah Tattnall, an 
honorable acquittal." 

It is doubtful, however, if the South ever fully forgave 

In the North there were no split emotions over the de- 
struction of the Merrimac. The press proclaimed "Admiral- 
General Lincoln." The public echoed the inspired nick- 
name, and re-echoed praise for the Monitor and Secretaries 
Stanton and Chase. The blanket of approval was even large 
and buoyant enough to spread over Gideon Welles. 

The Navy's share of the adulation flowed from Mr. 
Lincoln's skillful handling of a delicate situation in which 
a President of the United States and his Secretary of War 
had directed a naval engagement. 

The journey to Hampton Roads was Mr. Lincoln's first 
trip to a battle front on an excursion, fraught with discom- 
fort and danger, that took him close to Confederate terri- 
tory. The President's decision to accompany his Secretary 

"Admiral-General Lincoln" 

of War to within 10 miles of the fearsome Merrimac could 
not have been lightly made. One wonders what other 
reason, beyond the persuasions of Edwin M. Stanton, could 
have prompted the President to leave his desk in Wash- 
ington and direct, in person, the occupation of Norfolk. 

Examination of the official record suggests what that 
reason may have been. At the President's request, Com- 
modore Goldsborough wrote an account of the events that 
had led up to the surrender of Norfolk. Mr. Lincoln had 
then inscribed across the document: "I send you this copy 
of your report of the events of yesterday for the purpose 
of saying to you in writing . . . that the movement made 
by you was in accordance with my wishes. ... I avail 
myself of the occasion to thank you for your courtesy and 
all your conduct during my brief visit here." 

President Lincoln then ordered this exchange of mes- 
sages to be telegraphed to Secretary Welles for immediate 
publication in newspapers across the country. It was soon 
followed by the jubilant announcement of the destruction 
of the Merrimac. 

The President's action supports the belief that he had 
accompanied Stanton not to issue joint orders to the Army 
and Navy but primarily to keep peace between the two 
feuding branches of his service. His tactful management 
indicates a deeply felt need to restore public confidence 
and raise the morale of his people by bringing hope and 
dignity to a united cause. The shrewdly handled publicity 
accomplished its end, bringing to the North a unanimity of 
thought that was rare in the groping, fumbling, schismatic 
days of the Civil War. The relief experienced in the Navy 
Department was tremendous. People could sleep quietly 
once more, free from the dread of the Merrimac, that 
"bugbear and terror . . . that hideous apprehension." 
Many church services, on that Sabbath of May n, con- 

136 Tin Can on a Shingle 

eluded with the rolling chords of the Star Spangled Banner. 
"So has ended a brilliant week's campaign with the 
President," Chase wrote to his daughter, "for I think it 
quite certain that if we had not come down, Norfolk 
would still have been in the possession of the enemy, and 
the Merrimac as grim and defiant and as much of a terror 
as ever. The whole coast is now virtually ours." 

XVII: The Monitor, and Merrimac II 

The Monitor, no longer held captive by her own fleet 
in the Roads, was released for duty elsewhere and was at 
once sent up the James River. Everyone, from the Com- 
mander of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron to 
the smallest newsboy hawking his daily papers, shared the 
opinion that Ericsson's ship, alone and unaided, would 
take Richmond and, after Richmond, Charleston. Com- 
mander David Dixon Porter recommended that she be sent 
to Mobile Bay; she was "worth more than all the ironclads 
put together." She had "saved not only our Capitol but 
the reputation of our country." " Admiral-General Lin- 
coln" was begged to take the Monitor under his personal 
command and continue to guide her destiny. 

Public faith in the Monitor never dimmed even as May 
advanced into the heat of June and July and the soaring 
temperatures of August and Richmond was not taken. A 
few dissenters wondered if the "invincibility of ironclads" 
was not a myth, but the majority held loyally to the orig- 
inal concept of her magic powers. Even when it became 
known that the Northern ships could not pass beyond 
obstructions that had been sunk in the James River, and 
that the drive on Richmond had failed, faith in the Monitor 
was undimmed. At Drury's Bluff, people said, the Monitor 
had been struck, without damage, three times; the Galena 
had been perforated thirteen times, with a loss of thirteen 
of her crew and eight wounded. The Monitor had proved 


Tin Can on a Shingle 

herself superior to other armored ships. They cheered 
that fact, when they could not cheer victory. 

Survival of the crew during the blistering summer days 
called for stamina far beyond that required in actual com- 
bat. Scurvy broke out on board and Lieutenant JefFers 
had to make frequent appeals for fresh provisions. He re- 
ported that "the air stood at 140 in the turret when in 
action which, when added to the gases of gunpowder and 
smoke, gases from the fire room, smoke and heat from the 
illuminating lamps . . . produced a fetid atmosphere, 
causing an alarming degree .of exhaustion and prostration 
from the crew. In the galley, where temperatures often 
rose to 1 60, several men have already literally wilted 
down by the intense heat of its position against the rear 
end of the boiler." 

The heat was as hard on the engines as it was devital- 
izing to the men, and new machinery had to be sent for. 
Lieutenant JefFers wrote, in an official report, "Human 
endurance has a limit," and was relieved in August by 
Commander Thomas H. Stephens. The little ironclad had 
been in service since February and it was decided that she, 
too, needed rest and repair. She was ordered to Hampton 
Roads in September. 

But the Union fleet was not yet ready to release its sturdy 
little guardian. The Richmond, spoken of as bigger, fleeter, 
and with a shallower draft than the Merrimac, was nearing 
completion in the Confederate shipyard at the capital city. 
Not until the armored Ne<w Ironsides had arrived in the 
Roads, and Newport News had been fortified with six 
zoo-pound Parrot rifles, could the Monitor be spared to 
proceed to the Washington Navy Yard. 

The little ironclad was hauled into drydock on October 
13, equipped with new fans and other improvements to her 
ventilator system. Her hull was scraped and painted and, 

The Monitor and Merrimac II *39 

better than when she was new, the Monitor was re-launched 
on the z6th of October. 

The occasion was celebrated by a reception on board. 
Lieutenant Greene, "a beardless boy," had the honor of 
welcoming the President of the United States to the gang- 
way. The Navy Department guns fired a salute to Worden. 
Greene, "modest . . . diffident, had to be pushed into the 
circle, and prevailed upon" to deliver a speech describing 
the Monitor in battle. President Lincoln paid a tribute to 
the ship and her officers and men and then stood quietly, 
near the turret, during the ceremony. 

All leaves were canceled and a new commander, Captain 
John Pine Bankhead, came aboard. The suspenseful cycle 
of the Monitor's first days recurred; the Richmond was 
being completed; the Richmond would be ready in ten 
days; the Richmond had been seen going down the James 
River. General J. A. Dix, at Baltimore, wrote to fc General 
Halleck: "There is nothing to cope with [the Richmond] 
but the Monitor. If anything befalls the Monitor . . . 
everything about us may be smashed up. ..." Once 
again, frantic messages questioned: "When can the Monitor 
leave for Hampton Roads?" 

The renowned ironclad was to have a gala day before 
her return to duty. The event was probably approved, 
may well have been instigated, by that superb director of 
public relations "Admiral-General Lincoln." An invita- 
tion was extended to the people of Washington to come 
aboard the Monitor on the afternoon of November 6. Long 
before daybreak lines queued up at the Navy Yard; the 
crowds were controlled with difficulty. The public 
climbed aboard in droves, fascinated by every minute 
detail, every small appointment on this most original ship. 
Ladies in hoop skirts frisked up and down ladders into the 
turret, the engine room, the Wardroom, inspecting the 

140 Tin Can on a Shingle 

"kitchen" and the "bedrooms" of the officers and crew. 
All agreed that she was a miraculous invention. "Bully 
for the Monitor!" exclaimed the Washington Star. On that 
day the heart of the redoubtable showman, Phineas T. 
Barnum, who was then in partial retirement at Bridgeport, 
Connecticut, must have swelled with yearning for such 
an attraction. 

The crew of the Monitor, refreshed by shore leave, were 
puffed up by their duties of guiding worshipful landlubbers 
over their reconditioned ship; heroes at dockside, they 
longed for battle. They, too, had heard terror-ridden 
rumors of the threat of the Richmond, and wanted to settle, 
with this second Merrimac, their unpaid score with her 
predecessor. But the Monitor was held in Washington for 
further repairs the installation of new steam pipes and 
did not return to Virginia until November 15. 

Weeks passed with no sign of the Richmond nor any- 
thing of interest in Hampton Roads beyond the busy flow 
of ships coming from or leaving for blockade duty. Cap- 
tain Bankhead applied for, but was denied, transfer to a 
more active area; the crew wrote griping letters home and 
cursed the braggart Southern ship that would not come into 
the open and fight. 

The Monitor men could not know that awaiting them 
was an opponent more paralyzing in power, more pitiless 
in dominion, than any man-made iron ship: the terrifying 
rage of an angry sea off the Diamond Shoals of Cape 

XVIII: The Monitor men, and the sea 

The North's relief over the destruction of the Merrimac 
was soon dispelled by omens of the Richmond and the 
renewed dread of ironclad attack. Once again fear swept 
through the North with rumors of a whole fleet of "Merri- 
macs" believed to be under construction in southern ports: 
at Richmond, at Wilmington, at Charleston and Savannah. 

Some of these anxieties were corroborated by statements 
from trusted escapees. However, the Navy Department 
knew of another proposed menace to Northern hopes, one 
that was closer and could be more easily achieved: the 
South's determination to break the blockade off Wilming- 
ton, North Carolina. 

That port, situated on a lonely coast, had been one of 
the weakest links in the blockade chain. Small ships steal- 
ing out at night from coves and inlets along the shore had 
managed to elude the Union squadron. They ran for 
Nassau and Bermuda, relaying cotton for shipment abroad; 
they picked up cargoes of contraband, returning with them 
to Wilmington, or dropping them off at isolated shelters 
along the beaches of Florida. The trade was not sufficient 
to bring to the South any degree of well-being or pros- 
perity, but it was and would be until 1865 "the lifeline 
of the Confederacy." It brought to the impoverished South 
meager shipments of precious ammunition and supplies. 
Allowed to grow, this infiltration could eventually jeop- 
ardize the international legality of the blockade. 


14 2 Tin Can on a Shingle 

Wilmington in 1862 was much like other southern towns 
that had been drained by Mr. Lincoln's proclamation. It 
was dirty, disheveled and ridden with yellow fever. Pro- 
visions were scarce and prices exorbitant for those days. 
Before the war's end, living costs would soar above any 
previous conception, but in the early days of the blockade, 
flour was already $30 a barrel, whiskey $15 a gallon, shoes 
$20 a pair, butter $i a pound. Gripped by sickness and 
misery, the South was obliged to find some means to free 
itself from these growing threats to its economy. 

William Robins, a carpenter who had been working at 
the Wilmington shipyards, escaped to the Roads to tell of 
the Confederate scheme. The South, he said, was secretly 
building two ironclad gunboats. Their keels had been laid 
in Wilmington in early September; their plates, like the 
Merrimac's, were being rolled in Richmond at the Tredegar 
Iron Works. Both gunboats would surely be finished by 
January 1863. In the planned assault on the Union block- 
aders, the ironclad would be supported by heavy shore 
batteries that had been recently transferred from Charles- 
ton. The artillery at Wilmington was mustering as many 
recruits as possible: "enlisting men from fourteen to fifty 
years of age." 

Few ships could be spared from Hampton Roads to meet 
this threat. The Union vessels were held fast to their an- 
chorages, immobilized by the very existence of a second 
Merrimac. Lacking quantity, the Navy chose quality: the 
Monitor was ordered to report for further instructions to 
Beaufort, North Carolina, on the first day after December 
24 that promised a fair and peaceful voyage. 

At 2:30 on the afternoon of December 29, the Monitor 
left the Roads in the tow of the Rhode Island. In the 
convoy was a second monitor, the newly completed Passaic, 
towed by the State of Georgia. It was a brisk, sunny day, 

The Monitor men, and the sea 143 

the bay was smooth and there was no hint of unsettled 
weather in the clear winter sky. 

In the wake of the Rhode Island, a supply ship under the 
command of Stephen Decatur Trenchard, the Monitor was 
in good company. The Rhode Island had been one of the 
last merchant vessels to come off the ways in peacetime. 
She had hardly been launched as the Eagle, a "first-class 
passenger steamer" when the U. S. Navy acquired her for 
$185,000. Polished maple and walnut lined the cabins of 
this pride of the Charleston Line; grim 8-inch guns and an 
iron ram were added to her immaculate fittings when she 
joined the Navy. High speed of 14 knots suited her two- 
fold assignment of speeding provisions to the ships of the 
North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, and giving chase to 
any blockade runners that might cross her bow. 

The Squadron called her "the Friendly Ship" in acknowl- 
edgment of her welcome deliveries of provisions along the 
line of the blockade. Her periodic visits brought basic 
stores and small luxuries to men on lonely stations, who had 
been long out of touch with the world. When the crews 
made out the distinguishing numbers on the Rhode Island's 
side, they quickly lowered their boats. Some were spurred 
by expectancy of beef and vegetables and tangy memories 
of fresh fruit. Others hungered for letters from home, or 
weeks-old newspapers, or the Navy Register. Still others 
wanted to hear verbal accounts of how the war was pro- 
gressing and how many added months they might expect to 
spend in lonely vigil off the Atlantic Coast. 

The Rhode Island got underway for Beaufort, her cap- 
tain unaware that this was to be another mission of mercy. 
She dropped her speed to 6 knots to accommodate the little 
ship that followed, at the end of two 12 -inch hawsers, as 
obediently as a toy on a string. The moon came up and 
sharpened the Monitor's outline against the gleam of a 

Can on a Shingle 

gently rolling sea. The Passaic had proceeded on an east- 
erly course and was out of sight. 

Aboard the Monitor were Lieutenant Greene and other 
officers and more than twenty of the original crew that had 
shared her first passage down the East River nine months 
past. Captain Bankhead lacked Lieutenant Worden's pride 
in and affection for his ship. There were some in the Navy 
who believed that, a captain of the "old school," Bank- 
head had been mistakenly appointed to the command of an 
ironclad. He himself would have preferred another assign- 
ment; the Navy had insisted that he stay with the Monitor. 

In the crew were some new recruits. Among them, 
Francis B. Butts had enlisted in Washington in November. 
"I forgot," he wrote later, "what I had been taught in the 
service-that a man always gets in trouble if he volunteers." 

Francis Butts' "trouble" was that of being spared the 
fate of sixteen of his shipmates who would go down with 
the Monitor in the icy waters off Hatteras. His name would 
outlive him as the author of the only fully detailed account, 
written by a survivor, of the sinking of the North's first 
ironclad. He has received no citations except the ones he 
awarded himself in his own colorful prose. He may be 
pardoned for slight inaccuracies; differences of fact 
occurred in some of the reports that were written by his 
superiors. He may have lacked objectivity where his own 
deeds were concerned, but, except for a few instances, his 
memories dovetail with, and actually embellish, the crisp 
summaries in the official record. 

Noon of the second day brought Butts his ". . . trick at 
the wheel . . . Being a good hand," he admitted, "I was 
kept there." 

A storm had been building up since early morning and, 
by noon, had blown into a gale that strained at the cables 
with which the Rhode Island held the Monitor in tow. 

The Monitor men, and the sea 145 

When tumultuous seas swamped the pilothouse, the steer- 
ing gear was hastily rigged atop the turret: 

The vessel was making very heavy weather, riding one wave, 
plunging through the next as if shooting straight for the bot- 
tom of the ocean, splashing down on another with such force 
that her hull would tremble with a shock that would some- 
times almost take us off our feet, while a fourth would leap 
upon us and break far above the turret. 

Butts and the officers present were saved from being 
swept overboard only by the chest-high railing that en- 
circled the turret roof. 

In late afternoon the sea abated somewhat, but Captain 
Bankhead believed that the steady pull of the tow lines was 
too hard on the Monitor. His ship had no mast on which 
to hoist the conventional code signals for exchanging in- 
formation with her escort. The only means of communica- 
tion was by messages written on a blackboard to be picked 
up by the strong glasses of the Rhode Island's signal officer. 
In acknowledgment of Bankhead's request, the Rhode 
Island lay to, but the Monitor continued to wallow in the 
rough sea. After fifteen minutes, every one of which Vol- 
unteer Butts must has spent in dismal self -recrimination, 
the Monitor signaled the Rhode Island to proceed. 

"At dark we were . . . directly off Cape Hatteras," 
Francis Butts recorded. "The sea rolled high and pitched 
together in the peculiar manner seen only at Hatteras." 

Those who are content to stand at the edge of the ocean 
at Nags Head, or Kill Devil, or Buxton or any of the tidy 
villages on the Outer Banks well know that restless, con- 
tentious beating of the sea. The breakers crash in walls of 
white spray, then tumble and fan out fast and wide on the 
beach, and collide angrily in their race to the shore. They 

146 Tin Can on a Shingle 

roar landward across submerged and treacherous ridges of 
sand that extend for 25 miles into the sea and are known 
as the Diamond Shoals. They have lost the warmth of the 
Gulf Stream and are chilled by the deep forbidding current 
that courses down from Labrador. Memories ride on them 
of the ships they have conquered. 

Seas like these battered mercilessly at the little Monitor 
on that raging, howling night of December 30. The pound- 
ing brine accomplished what the Merrimac with her 
armor, her ram, and her mighty Dahlgren guns could 
not do: split the seam between the ironclad's hull and deck. 

Butts saw the first trickle from the leak on his way to 
deliver a message from the Captain to Joseph Watters in 
the engine room. He returned at once to the top of the 
turret which was now assaulted by gusts of wind and blind- 
ing shafts of rain that tore out of the southwest. He re- 
ported that water was seeping in through the coal bunkers. 
Quartermasters Williams and Anjier were taking short 
turns at the wheel, pitting their strength against the on- 
slaughts of the Atlantic. Shouting to be heard over the 
storm, Bankhead ordered Butts below to report on the 
action of the pumps. Again and again Butts descended into 
the rolling, pitching vessel with questions for the engine- 
room crew. Time after time he returned with dire and 
fateful answers: the water was gaining on the bilge pumps; 
the sea was pouring in through the hawse pipes. The 
Worthington pumps had been attached but were inade- 
quate to handle the slowly rising tide. R. W. Hands had 
started the new centrifugal pump; water was spreading, an 
inch deep, across the engine-room floor; it had reached the 
ash pits; it was ankle deep. 

Commander Bankhead knew now that he could not 
save his ship. The Monitor hoisted a red lantern, a pre- 
arranged signal to indicate abandonment. The Rhode 



The end of the Monitor off Gape Hatteras. 

The Monitor men, and the sea 

Island cut off her engines; the Monitor steamed forward 
and came alongside. Shouting through his trumpet, Bank- 
head managed to be heard above the storm. "We are 
sinkingsend boats!" 

The Rhode Island cast off the tow ropes to maneuver 
into a more favorable position for lowering her launch and 
first cutter. Dangerously slack, the released cables danced 
to the wild rhythm of the sea. The Rhode Island attempted 
to steam ahead so that her drift would not bear directly 
on either of the small boats or the Monitor. But the Rhode 
Island was not free to pick her course: one of the loose 
cables had tangled in her paddle wheel. The Monitor, with 
the launch between her and the Rhode Island, was still in 
tow. "We were about to be towed under by our escort," 
Butts wrote. 

Like sharply defined but disconnected segments of a 
nightmare, the elements of destruction closed in on the 
Monitor. The Rhode Island, pummeled by angry seas, 
could not go forward. Bankhead shouted for volunteers to 
cut the Monitor's end of the jammed cable. James Fenwick 
tried and was swept overboard. Then John Stocking one 
of the original Monitor men with a series of swift blows, 
hacked away the hawser. As he swung around to retreat 
to the turret, a monstrous wave carried him out into the 

The launch, now alongside, moved with alternating 
motion against the Monitor's rise and fall on the sea. 
Powerless, the Rhode Island bore steadily down. Suddenly, 
she steamed away: a fireman aboard her had climbed into 
the paddle wheel and chopped away the entangling cable. 
The launch was barely saved from being crushed between 
the Rhode Island's wooden hull and the Monitor's deck of 
iron; fifteen of the crew piled aboard her. Not as many 
followed in the cutter. Several who had not grabbed the 

Tin Can on a Shingle 

lifelines firmly enough were washed, screaming, from the 

The seas were now breaking over the entire ship. Butts 
was once more dispatched to the engine room. He carried 
instructions for Joseph Watters in the engine-room to 
reduce speed to a minimum so that all possible pressure 
could be applied to the pumps. Bankhead ordered the an- 
chor let go on the run, hoping that this would stabilize the 
motion of the ship. It caught hold in 60 fathoms. This was 
the final stroke of the misfortune. The rushing cable ripped 
away the packing around the anchor well and water 
poured in. 

On his way below, Butts came upon one of the engineers, 
S. A. Lewis, too ill to leave his bunk. "Is there any hope?'* 
Lewis asked. Butts did not reply. The cook was scolding 
a group of terrified cabin boys who would not leave the 
cold comfort of the dimly lit galley for the dreaded un- 
known of the dark night. An old sailor seized the smallest 
of the boys and tied him in his duffel preparatory to tossing 
him into the next boat that came alongside. 

Butts was like a man walking mechanically in sleep 
through moments of terror too great to be heeded, pangs of 
pity too deep to feel. He was aware of the small dramas 
being enacted around him but was not touched by their 
meaning. He proceeded to the turret and relayed Watters' 
report that the pressure in the boilers had sunk to 5 pounds 
per square inch. The small pumps were useless, choked 
with water. The fires were dying, and the engines had 
stopped. The main pump turned feebly. Butts was or- 
dered to organize the remnants of the crew into a bailing 
brigade and recognized the order for what it was: a device 
to keep down panic. 

He went to the turret to haul up the buckets that were 
being passed along the bailing line. By the time they 

The Monitor men, and the sea 

reached him, they had already spilled their contents back 
into the tossing ship and held but a few ounces to be 
heaved over the side. He still could not grasp that the 
Monitor would founder. Disturbed by the howling of the 
ship's cat, he tucked it out of harm's way in the muzzle of 
one of the turret guns. Before he replaced the tampion, he 
removed his jacket, folded it tidily and precisely and placed 
it with the cat for safe keeping. He heard the call for all 
hands to abandon ship and climbed to the turret roof with 
Watters, Hands, Seaman Thomas Joice, Ensign Norman 
Atwater and what was left of the engine-room crew and 
guncrew. They struggled down to the small boat bobbing 
perilously alongside. With them was the old sailor who 
toted over his shoulder a wriggling duffel bag. Some let 
themselves down from the turret by lifelines. Commander 
Bankhead held the boat's painter, as Greene tried to steady 
her against the push and pull of the sea. Bankhead issued a 
last call to the small group of men who refused to leave 
the turret. Richard Anjier was still at the wheel, and was 
ordered to come down. "No, sir," he told Bankhead. "Not 
until you go, sir." The rain had stopped and the moon 
came up, gleaming on the white faces of men and one cabin 
boy who preferred to face death on the iron turret rather 
than in a small open boat tossed by a bullying sea. Captain 
Bankhead, Greene, Stodder, Anjier and Butts were the 
last to leave. Greene gave the order, "Cut the painter!" and 
the last group of survivors left the Monitor. 

"After a fearful and dangerous passage over the frantic 
seas," wrote Francis Butts, "we reached the Rhode Island. 
. . . We came alongside under the lee bows, where the first 
boat that had left the Monitor nearly an hour before had 
just discharged its men; . . . we were carried by the sea 
from stem to stern, for to have made fast would have been 
fatal; the boat was pounding against the ship's sides; some- 

Tin Can on a Shingle 

times it was below the wheel, and then, on the summit of 
a huge wave, far above the decks; then the two boats would 
crash together; and once, while Surgeon Weeks was hold- 
ing onto the rail, he lost his fingers by a collision that 
swamped the other boat. Lines were thrown to us from 
the deck of the Rhode Island, which were of no assistance, 
for not one of us could climb a small rope." 

The supply ship's crew finally succeeded in throwing 
down rescue lines. One by one, inserting a foot, or seat- 
ing themselves within the loop, the Monitor men were 
hauled up over the side. 

Clouds once more blocked out the moon. Shivering 
though they were from the wet, the cold, and the terror, 
the survivors nevertheless crowded to the rail to stare 
through the blackness toward the Monitor's red light. Now 
visible, now hidden in the trough of the sea, swept far by 
the tide, it pirouetted, swift and erratic, like the fanciful 
tip of a magician's wand. Suddenly it went out. "The 
Monitor" wrote Captain Bankhead, "was seen no more." 
No one could be sure, later, of where she foundered. 

The Rhode Island cruised the area all that night, burning 
Coston signals at hourly intervals, in search of a cutter that 
had gone back to the Monitor and failed to return to the 
Rhode Island, and of missing members of the Monitor 
crew. The cutter's crew, in charge of Master's Mate 
Browne, were eventually picked up by the schooner A. 
Colby out of Bucksport, Maine and landed safely at 
Beaufort. Twelve men and four officers of the Monitor 
went down with their ship when the Rhode Island was 8 
or 10 miles off the coast, directly east of Hatteras. 

A muster of the survivors aboard the Rhode Island ac- 
counted for forty-seven officers and men. On January 3, 
1863, "At Sea Aboard the USS Rhode Island" twenty of 
them wrote a letter to the Hon. Gideon Welles. They 

The Monitor men, and the sea 

respectfully represented that they were: " . . . all who 
now remain of the original crew of the USS Monitor. . . . 
We feel that our officers will willingly accord to us no 
small degree of approval of our efforts to save her in the 
sad hour that compelled us to abandon her. In consideration 
whereof we humbly beg that we may be discharged from 
further service from the Navy of the United States." The 
petitioners hoped: "... that we may be privileged to 
serve our country in whatever capacity may seem best" 
as long as that service was far removed from any ship, on 
any sea. 

XIX: The battle over the Battle, and u the highway of 

So ended, in a storm, the embattled career of the North's 
"pet monster of our ironclads." "The sadness reached every 
household," wrote Francis Butts, "and the nation wept." 

The Monitor's turbulent existence spanned but eleven 
months. She fought one great battle that sent her name 
around the world and has carried it down through history. 
She was hated as extravagantly as she was loved; she was 
praised as lavishly as she was condemned. The Monitor 
was encased not only with iron but with the same stern, 
rugged ability to make friends and enemies that character- 
ized her inventor: admirable, quixotic John Ericsson. 

Although the Monitor was feared and detested by the 
South, no geographical boundary separated her friends 
from her foes. Long before she took form in wood and 
iron, the idea of the Monitor had to fight in the North for 
her right to exist. Long after she sank in the icy waters 
of the Atlantic, controversy rolled over her as tempestu- 
ously as the elements that sealed her doom. 

As a result of the Battle of March 9, 1862, ironclad con- 
struction began, on a large scale, in every navy in the 
world. Commodore Smith's Ironclad Board, skeptical 
though it may have been prior to the "drawn battle" be- 
tween the Monitor and the Merrimac, nevertheless obtained 
passage of a bill appropriating $10,000,000 for the future 


The battle over the Battle 

construction of more monitors. The Board had awaited 
only the report of the Monitor's behavior in battle to let 
the contracts. 

Ericsson and his partners accepted a proposal to build 
six light, turreted gunboats for use on the inland water- 
ways. In addition, they signed a contract for the construc- 
tion of six new monitors: the Passaic, and her sisters Mon- 
tauky Catskill, Patapsco, Lehigh and Sangamon. A second 
order resulted in four more. Eventually the giants, Dictator, 
Puritan and Miniantonomah were added, and forty-six 
others, of various types and tonnage. The Dictator was 
planned to do 16 knots. Actually her speed was 12 knots, 
but she and the Puritan and Miniantonomah were not 
finished in time for use in the Civil War. Of the entire 
Civil War fleet, only six monitors were sunk in battle or 
at sea: a fairly impressive record for ships that were not 
considered seaworthy. Fifteen were sold and eleven were 
broken up by the United States Navy in 1874. Thirty 
monitors, according to the great naval historian, James 
Russell Soley, were still in existence in 1883. 

The hard-won recognition of monitors did not flow in 
an even, unbroken stream. When the Monitor sank off 
Cape Hatteras, the die-hards who still preferred wooden 
ships to ships of iron sang, once more, their doleful tunes. 
Again and again they chanted that monitors could not face 
the sea. They cited the fact that the Passaic had encoun- 
tered almost the same fate in the same storm that had con- 
quered the Monitor. These allegations, of course, were 
true. But those who recited them were deafened by their 
own persuasions, nor could they see beyond their own day 
to Ericsson's lasting contribution to naval architecture and 
to the final outcome of the Civil War. 

Some of the Monitor's friends were as detrimental to the 
course of future monitors as were her foes. They and 

754 Tin Can on a Shingle 

unfortunately the Navy's Secretary Welles and Assistant 
Secretary Fox were among them claimed exaggerated 
powers for Ericsson's fighting batteries. When monitors 
were used, against Ericsson's advice, to subdue harbor 
forts, and when they failed in that task, monitors were 
once more discredited. 

Ericsson stood firmly, belligerently, between the fanatics 
on either side. He reiterated that his Monitor had been 
planned for the defense of, not attacks upon, coastal towns. 
The week before Samuel Francis DuPont's unsuccessful 
attack on Charleston, in the spring of 1863, in which nine 
monitors took part, Ericsson wrote a warning to Gustavus 

I candidly confess that I cannot share in your confidence 
relative to the capture of Charleston. ... If you succeed, it 
will not be a mechanical consequence of your "marvelous 
vessels," but because you are marvelously fortunate. The most 
I dare hope is that the contest will end without loss of that 
prestige which your ironclads have conferred on the nation 
abroad. If armed with proper guns, I believe your turreted 
vessels, now before Charleston, would destroy the whole fleet 
of England. A single shot will sink a ship, while too rounds 
will not silence a fort. . . . The immutable laws of force and 
resistance do not favor your enterprise. 

Welles and Fox did not heed Ericsson's advice. As a 
result, Admiral DuPont was able to mark down monitors 
as a great fiasco, and to persuade five of his captains to sign 
an official document condemning their performance at sea 
and in battle. 

The battle record of the monitors does not support that 

As the war progressed, the blockade slowly tightened, 

The battle over the Battle 

gripping the South in a relentless, pitiless stranglehold. 
Wherever the impoverished Confederacy attempted to 
raise the blockade with newly built ironclads, more fear- 
some even than the Merrimac, John Ericsson's monitors 
appeared to strike them down. 

On February 28, 1863, the Monitor's John Lorimer 
Worden was in command of the monitor Montauk, on duty 
off the coast of Georgia. Worden had been informed that 
the Southern blockade runner Nashville, hidden from him 
by a strip of thickly wooded land and protected by the guns 
of Fort McAllister, waited a chance to slip by the Union 
fleet. He ordered his ship forward to drop anchor off the 
Fort. The Montauk withstood shore fire that smashed 
against her deck, turret and pilot house; her fifteenth shot 
put a i5-inch shell solidly into the Nashville, exploding 
the Southern ship in smoke and flame. Worden retired in 
triumph under fire from the Fort. 

Following Admiral DuPont's failure to subdue Charles- 
ton in April, 1863, the Confederacy issued an erroneous 
proclamation that the Union blockade had been raised. A 
Confederate ironclad ram, the Atlanta, was sent out to 
demolish the Union fleet, accompanied by two excursion 
steamers filled with eager spectators crowding the rails. Off 
Savannah, the Atlanta was met by the monitor Weehaivken, 
under the able command of Captain John Rodgers. The 
Weehawken greeted the Atlanta with blasts from her 15- 
inch guns. In hardly more than fifteen minutes the Atlanta 
surrendered, and her excursion convoy steamed back to 
shore with all speed. 

Ericsson wrote: "To prevent blockade running off 
Charleston a monitor had to do picket duty every night at 
a point within easy range of five forts." A fleet of monitors 
in the command of the newly appointed Rear Admiral 
John A. Dahlgren, eventually returned to Charleston on 

1 56 Tin Can on a Shingle 

July 10, 1863, and maintained an effective blockade until 
the war ceased on that coast in February, 1865. 

On August 5, 1864, Admiral Farragut led his gallant 
ships into Mobile Bay, preceded by the monitor, Tecumseh. 
Veering from the channel, the ironclad hit a submerged 
torpedo and exploded. Farragut, with "Damn the tor- 
pedoes/' ordered his fleet forward to one of the great naval 
victories of the War. Yet the North's triumph at Mobile 
Bay was almost snatched from Farragut by the threat of a 
Confederate ironclad ram, the Tennessee, under the com- 
mand of the Memmac's Franklin Buchanan. Farragut later 
described the Tennessee as "the most formidable vessel of 
its kind ever to carry the Confederate flag." Three of the 
Union ships attempted to ram her with "more damage to 
themselves than to the enemy." The monitor Chickasaw 
was ordered to maintain a position within fifty yards of the 
Tennessee and pound her steadily with n-inch shot: one 
hit the Tennessee's rudder, and Buchanan, wounded, 
ordered the surrender of his ship. 

The Confederate threat to the blockade off Wilmington, 
North Carolina, was greatly enlarged by the South's 
stubborn hold on Fort Fisher. In the combined army-navy 
operation that finally subdued the Fort on January 15, 
1865, Admiral David Dixon Porter, one of the earliest 
friends of the ironclads, ordered his monitors stationed mid- 
way between his wooden ships and the shore. The moni- 
tors kept up a barrage against bomb-proofs and magazines 
on land and, lying low in the water, were unharmed by 
projectiles discharged by the guns on the Union ships to 
soar over the monitors on their flight toward shore targets. 
Captain Dudley Knox later described this action as "an 
important novelty in naval tactic." It further demonstrated 
the battle qualities of John Ericsson's sturdy iron ships. 

The battle over the Battle 757 

Ericsson, except for defending his brain children with 
words that were cudgels, proceeded uninterruptedly to 
perfect the inventions in his ironclads. His new monitors 
carried many innovations: cold water pipes to improve the 
ventilation; a hurricane deck and promenade deck atop the 
turret on the larger monitors; 1 5-inch and, later, 1 6-inch 
smooth bore guns; more skillfully inserted boltheads, im- 
proved sightholes in the pilot house; watertight inner skin. 
The overhang, of which Lieutenant Greene had com- 
plained, was eventually discarded and a new method devised 
for protecting the anchor. The pilot house was placed on 
top of the turret, with improved access to and communica- 
tion with the berth deck and its stores of ammunition. 

Ericsson made his monitors increasingly seaworthy. The 
Dictator, on her way to Key West, encountered a storm 
that sent her escort vessels to shore for protection. The 
Dictator rode out the gale with "fine seagoing qualities and 
plenty of coal in her bunker.'\The Miniantonomah, in 
1866, transported a proud and justified Assistant Secretary 
of the Navy across the Atlantic on an exhibition cruise to 

At the battle's end on March 9, 1862, an impartial 
observer would have called it a draw. Restrained witnesses 
on both sides who were not swayed by preconceived judg- 
ment called it just that. It has been so called for many years, 
in many textbooks, in many classrooms. But for the great 
masses of the people the selection of the victor depended 
only on what side the choice happened to favor. 

When the sinking of the Monitor engulfed the Union in 
grief and revived, all the legends of the ironclad's great 
achievements, the old arguments arose. The North's 
mourning was taken as a deliberate aifront to Southern 
pride. The battle of words spat hate and malice that burned 

i $8 Tin Can on a Shingle 

deep and lay festering. Long after Appomattox, sharp pen- 
points jabbed at wounds and would not let them heal. 

The conflict flared up again and again, undiminished with 
the years. In 1874, it settled around those unhappy Moni- 
tor men who had so wistfully petitioned Gideon Welles to 
excuse them from further service on the sea. He had 
replied at onceand abruptlyto the Commander of the 
North Atlantic Blockading Squadron at Hampton Roads: 
"Give them two weeks' leave, with 20 percent of all they 
may have due them. At the expiration they may return to 
receiving ships nearest their stations." 

On behalf of his sailors, and their dependents, many of 
whom were in need, Worden petitioned Congress for prize 
money: he requested $200,000 for the men who had "so 
absolutely crippled and disabled [the Merrimac] that she 
was not afterward fit for active service." 

To Confederates who had taken the Merrimac to "glori- 
ous victory" on March 9, Worden's statement was like the 
explosion of a battle gun. The Southern officers rallied to 
put down "Yankee lies" and "Worden's barefaced attempt 
to swindle the government." Southern papers called it "a 
novel plan to perpetuate an historical fable." If the Moni- 
tor had been so powerful, why had the North chartered 
ocean steamers to protect her from the South's ironclad 

To reduce any possible claim of the Monitor men on 
prize bounties, Southerners, with inverted pride, minimized 
the ability of their own ship. The Monitor, they said, could 
not possibly have saved the Union because the Merrimac 
never threatened it. They argued that experts had testified 
that she could never have put to sea, or bombarded towns, 
or broken the blockade. 

The officers and men of the Cumberland joined in the 
uproar. The Merrimac, they said, had retired from the 

The battle over the Battle 

battle of March 9 because of injuries she had received on 
March 8, from the Cumberland. If there were any who 
deserved prize money, it was said, they were the men of the 
Cumberland. Some senator from a midwestern state, far 
from the sea, inquired where prize bounties would stop: if 
they were distributed to the Navy, why not to the Army? 

The battle, with none of its original courage and sacri- 
fice, lived again in the North and in the South, in news- 
papers and magazines, in forums and club debates, on the 
floors of both houses of Congress. Worden's proposal was 
tabled, but was presented again in 1882, 1883 -again in 
1885. The Admiral pleaded in vain for his cause and 
parried unjust attacks upon his men. Stanchly he defended 
his young executive officer, Samuel Dana Greene. 

After the sinking of the Monitor, Greene had gone on to 
continued faithful years in the Navy. As executive officer 
he served aboard the Florida, engaged in chasing blockade 
runners. He was made a Commander in 1872. Between 
1866 and April 1884, he was attached to the Naval Acad- 
emy as instructor in mathematics and head of the depart- 
ment of astronomy and navigation. He later saw service 
on European stations and with the Pacific Squadron. In 
1884, against a rising tide of criticism for his handling of 
the Monitor, he was persuaded to present publicly his ac- 
count of the Battle of the Ironclads. He told his story 
vividly, patiently, and in detail, in an article that appeared 
in the Century Magazine for March 1885. Commander 
Greene did not live to read proof on his pages. 

On December 12, 1884, the Concord, New Hampshire, 
Monitor told his story: 

Commander S. Dana Greene, U. S. Navy equipment officer 
at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, and one of the most popular 
officers in the service, committed suicide Thursday afternoon. 

160 Tin Can on a Shingle 

His lifeless body was discovered at the Franklin shiphouse at 
the yard, with a bullet wound in the head and a .38 calibre 
revolver in the right hand. He had been observed to act 
strangely for some time, and had been watched for fear that 
he might take his own life. As executive officer on the Moni- 
tor in the fight with the Merrimac, he took an important part 
in that encounter. Anxiety over the preparation of a literary 
work on that subject is thought to have resulted in temporary 
insanity. He is survived by a widow and three children, a son 
being an officer now on the Pacific station. 

Two captains under whom Greene served on the Mon- 
itor in circumstances that called for extraordinary bravery 
cited him in official records for "courage, coolness, and 
skill," "particularly good conduct," "devotion to duty un- 
surpassed." He received few public honors and a great 
deal of bad-tempered, illogical blame. There had been no 
stronghold impenetrable enough to shield him from the 
bitter battle of words. Happily, a good and faithful servant 
of the United States Navy, he lived to see his son, Samuel 
Dana Greene, Jr., graduate from the Naval Academy at 
the head of his class of 1883. 

Admiral Worden eventually gave up his efforts in behalf 
of the Monitor men. On March 2, 1886, he wrote: 

The alleged poor gunnery of Lieutenant Greene is not 
worthy of attention. Nor is the claim made by our Southern 
friends that the advantage of the fight was with them. The 
fact that the Merrimac retired to Norfolk and that the Moni- 
tor remained in the field of battle, by the side of the Minnesota, 
cannot fairly be disputed. Certainly, I do not intend to enter 
into a newspaper controversy upon the matter. I find myself 
in such a weakened condition of physical and nervous exhaus- 
tion that I am determined to avoid trouble, and let History 
take care of itself. 

The battle over the Battle 161 

Ericsson, too, had decided to let history speak for him. 
He had other work to do. He had moved to a smaller 
house at 36 Beach Street, not far from the Hudson River. 
There he had worked incessantly, refusing to reduce his 
hours to conserve his strength. He was concerned with 
ideas leading into a new age: torpedoes; the storage of 
solar energy; motors turned by solar rays reflected by 
mirrors; the problems of perpetual motion. "I propose 
to continue at my work," he said, "so long as I can stand 
at a drawing board." 

John Ericsson, at the end of his days, set his sights far 
into the future. Of his monitors, and his later torpedoes, 
he wrote: 

My only object is that of seeing the sea declared by all 
nations as sacred neutral ground. It is the highway of man- 
kind. . . . The art of war, as I have always contended, is 
positively in its infancy. When perfected, man will be forced 
to live in peace with man. 

John Ericsson continued at his work until within three 
days of his death, on March 8, 1889. He departed from his 
drawing board, his sketches, his friendships, feuds and hope 
of peace just twenty-seven years, to the day, after his 
Monitor had rounded the capes of Virginia and the weary 
men aboard her were alerted by the low, ominous booming 
of the Merrimac's guns* 

At the request of the Swedish Government, he was 
taken to his native land for burial. The United States Navy 
Department ordered the embarkation to be conducted 
"with every circumstance that can invest it with dignity 
and solemnity. All the vessels of war that may be available 
will assemble in New York. . . . The marines from the 

1 62 Tin Can on a Shingle 

ships and the stations will form a guard of honor . . . 
under the escort of all available steam launches and pulling 
boats of the squadron, formed in double column." Many 
dignitaries were invited to be present, including Rear 
Admiral John Lorimer Worden. 

The cortege formed at the Battery. A statue stands there 
today, of John Ericsson holding in his hand a miniature 
Monitor. In a medium as inflexible and uncompromising 
as John Ericsson was in life, his image looks out past the 
Statue of Liberty across the far seas. 

George H. Robinson, one of the executors of the 

Ericsson estate, pronounced the valedictory: 

In the nation's tribute . . . the simple duty falls to us to 
yield to the claims of his mother-country, that she may again 
receive her son. We send him back crowned with honor; 
proud of the life of fifty years he devoted to this nation, and 
with gratitude to the gifts he gave us. Was he a dreamer? 
Yes. He dreamed of the practical application of screw propul- 
sion, and the commerce of the world was revolutionized. He 
dreamed of making naval warfare more terrible and the 
Monitor was built. . . . Again he dreamed and the Destroyer, 
with its submarine gun, was born. He dreamed of hot air, and 
behold, ten thousand caloric engines. He dreamed of the sun's 
rays in sandy deserts where water was hard to get, and the 
solar engine came; and so he dreamed and worked for seventy 
years. He bore the strain of unremitting toil, and at the end 
his last words were: "This is rest." Well earned, benefactor 
of the world! 

XX: The Monitor, and the Victory 

The Monitor lies today somewhere off Hatteras, washed 
by the sands and the brine of the sea. For years men argued 
over where she went down. Some said 50 miles off the 
coast, some said 20. Others said that shifting shoals washed 
her toward land at a point not far from Hatteras Light; 
they cited as proof that the bodies of six survivors had 
been swept up on the beach and were buried in unmarked 
graves at Buxton. Some men say they have flown over her 
location and, on clear days when the sea is calm and the 
sky is blue, have seen her outline against the depths of the 
ocean sand. 

A young ex-marine sergeant, Robert Marx, who learned 
how to skin-dive in his native California, claims to have 
walked her submerged iron deck. He is one of the many 
who have been enthralled by her legend. Another is a 
courtly North Carolinian, Ben Dixon MacNiell, author and 
journalist and official of the Hatteras Seashore State Park. 
Rather than live in a bustling city, he prefers a cottage on 
a high dune that overlooks Buxton and the sea. He speaks 
of the Monitor, and the Lighthouse, and the Gulf Stream, 
and the Labrador current as friends well known, and 
understood, and loved. 

As with all those previously concerned with Ericsson's 
controversial ship, both men represent conflicting view- 
points whose supporters are divided into sternly opposed 
camps. One group wishes the Monitor salvaged and 


164 Tin Can on a Shingle 

restored as one of the nation's most beloved relics. The 
other would rather that she stay where she lies captured 
by the jealous sea. The Navy, as in the days when Ericsson 
triedalmost in vain to stir its imagination, shows no 
interest in the Union Navy's "pet monster." 

Over John Ericsson's ship, in lonely imprisonment off the 
Outer Banks of North Carolina, still rolls the question 
sounded by the prolonged paper battle over the Battle: to 
whom went the Victory: the Monitor or the Merrimac? 

Northern sympathizers hoped, on March 9, 1862, that 
their ironclad would destroy her Southern rival: in this 
the Monitor failed. But her official orders were to protect 
the Minnesota: this, she did. Her future orders limited her 
to strictly defensive warfare: these, she obeyed. 

Her opponent, the Merrimac, steamed out of the Eliza- 
beth River on that bright Sunday morning to complete the 
destruction of the Minnesota and every other Federal ship 
in Hampton Roads; unchallenged by the Monitor she might 
well have pounded them into extinction. 

Twenty-one years later, James Russell Soley, a Professor 
at the U. S. Naval Academy and a later Assistant Secretary 
of the U. S. Navy, wrote his opinion of that day: 

The enemy possessed an engine of destruction whose offen- 
sive powers were a new revelation in maritime warfare. Had 
the waters of Hampton Roads remained under her control, the 
blockade would have been raised. . . . No single event in the 
naval war produced more momentous results than the victory 
of the Monitor. . . . Had the Monitor's arrival in Hampton 
Roads been postponed one single day, she would have found 
little of a fleet to need her protection. 

The passage of twenty-one years had not provided suffi- 

The Monitor, and the Victory 

cient time for a naval historian who had been loyal to the 
Union to write of the South without reference to "the 
enemy." Many years would pass before other historians 
would shed the partisan hatreds that had encircled the two 
ships and prevented any dispassionate appraisal of the long- 
range results of their battle. The final judgment must be 
based upon the outcome of the war itself. Pronouncement 
of victory for the Monitor offers triumph enough for both 
sides in that the heroism that it chronicles wore both Blue 
and Gray and in that it helped to keep a great nation 
undived. It forged, out of pain and death, bonds that 
differences in local thought and custom no matter how 
bitter or long-lived cannot tear apart. 

Ericsson called his Monitor a "fighting battery." She 
was more than that: she was a symbol. Her mechanized 
iron turret came out of a new age, startling, unpredictable, 
unconquered. The brave men of the Merrimac sent to their 
superiors no reports written in awe of the Vanderbilt, or 
the Arago, nor yet the small armored Naugatuck that had 
been dispatched to the Monitor's side. It was the Monitor 
they feared and needed to destroy. Lieutenant Catesby ap 
R. Jones said later that there had been for him no lasting 
satisfaction in the sinking of the Cumberland or the sur- 
render of the Congress. Having permitted the Monitor to 
escape, he felt he "had done nothing." 

John Ericsson made possible that escape by building for 
the Union an impregnable ship, the only one in the entire 
fleet able to repulse the terrifying Merrimac. Surviving that 
ordeal, even though held fast by her moorings in the Roads, 
the Monitor never had to fight again to earn her ultimate 

During the early months of the naval war, the Monitor 
was the link that held firm the young blockade, later de- 
scribed as "less spectacular than the operations of the Army, 

1 66 Tin Can on a Shingle 

but quite as effective in breaking down the Confederacy." 
Hampton Roads was the rendezvous of the North Atlantic 
Blockading Squadron. All through April 1862, and until 
the Merrimac was destroyed in mid-May, the presence of 
the Monitor protected Union ships on the northern shore 
from the threat of a second ironclad attack. The approaches 
to Hampton Roads were alive with Union vessels unin- 
terruptedly plying between their base of supply and their 
blockading stations. Some delivered messages from Ameri- 
can embassies abroad. Now preserved in the Official 
Records of the Union and Con-federate Navies, these re- 
ports carried vital information that made possible the seizure 
of ships bearing contraband to the Confederacy by way 
of Bermuda and Nassau. 

A passive but psychologically powerful guardian of the 
fleet, the Monitor provided a screen for the safe landing of 
McClellan's troops on the York Peninsula. The Prince de 
Joinville, who came from France to serve as a McClellan 
aide, described that landing. He wrote, on March 17, 1862: 

Soon the Roads were filled with vessels coming from Alex- 
andria and Annapolis and filled, some with soldiers, some with 
horses, cannon and munitions of all kinds. Sometimes I counted 
several hundred vessels at the anchorage and, among them, 
twenty to twenty-five large transports waiting for their turn 
to come up to the quay and land the 15 to 20 thousand men 
whom they brought. The reader may judge how fearful 
would have been the catastrophe had the Merrimac suddenly 
appeared among this swarm of wooden ships, striking them 
one after another and sending to the bottom these human 
hives with all their inmates. Every time smoke was seen above 
the trees which concealed the Elizabeth River, the men's hearts 
beat faster. 

The Merrimac did not emerge. She was then at the 

The Monitor, and the Victory 167 

Gosport Yard under repair for the damage that had been 
done her by the Monitor's guns. 

The Monitor had been "the testing run, the trial ship for 
every monitor . . . important in psychological warf are . . . 
irreplaceable in fending off intervention." Because fifty- 
eight men had been willing to take into battle a "tin can on 
a shingle," a fleet of monitors could stand off from southern 
harbors, protecting Mr. Lincoln's blockade, preserving the 
Union. "It was the cannon in the rotary turret," Ericsson 
wrote in 1867, "that tore the fetters from millions of 

Words that were written by Lieutenant Greene, but 
never seen by him in print, best describe the hard-fighting, 
hard fought-over, plucky little ironclad: "Not only by her 
providential arrival at the right moment did she secure the 
safety of Hampton Roads and all that depended on it, but 
the ideas that she embodied revolutionized the system of 
naval warfare which had existed from the earliest recorded 
history. . . . Crude and defective as was her construction 
in some of the details, she yet contained the idea of the 
turret which is today the central idea of the most powerful 
armored vessels. . . . No ship in the world's history has a 
more imperishable place in naval annals." 

History, moving as precisely as John Ericsson's "immu- 
table laws," speaks for the "tin can on a shingle": for 
Ericsson who made her; Worden, who commanded her; 
young Lieutenant Samuel Dana Greene, who fired her 


Rear- Admiral John B. Heffernan USN (Ret), Washing- 
ton, D.C., for consenting to read the manuscript for the 
purpose of ascertaining its technical and historical accur- 

Capt. Edwin M. Jameson (MC) USNR, Saranac Lake, 
N.Y., for contributing to portions of the text his knowl- 
edge and tangy vocabulary of the sea. 

Mrs. Ruth Worthington, Librarian, Saranac Lake Free 
Library, whose zest for research opens the door to its 

The New York State Library, Albany, N.Y., for its in- 
valuable Library Exchange Service. Added thanks are 
extended to Capt. J. K. Taussig, Jr. USN (Ret), United 
States Naval Institute, Annapolis, Md.; Mr. Elbert L. 
Huber, War Records Branch, National Archives and 
Record Service, Washington, D.C.; Miss Louise W. Tur- 
pin, Librarian, Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn, N.Y.; 
Mr. Marshall D. Butts, Curator, Norfolk Navy Shipyard, 
Norfolk, Va.; Miss Mary C. Brown, Librarian, Norfolk 
Public Library, Norfolk, Va.; Miss Cornelia D. Cree, Amer- 
ican-Swedish Historical Foundation, Philadelphia, Pa.; Mr. 
Philip N. Guyol, New Hampshire Historical Society, 
Concord, N.H.; the Mariner's Museum, Newport News, 

Tut. James Maclntyre USN (Ret) and the late Henry Hud- 
son, Saranac Lake, N.Y., and Charles Edey Fay, Lake 
Worth, Fla., for making available photographs, magazines 
and newspaper clippings from their own collections. 


Selective Bibliography 

Bates, E. Diary (Annual Report American Historical Associa- 
tion vol. 4) Wash., Govt. Printing Office. 

Baxter, J. P., Introduction of the Ironclad Warship, Harvard 
University Press, 1933. 

Bennett, F. M. The Monitor and the Navy Under Steam, Bos- 
ton, Houghton-MifHin, 1900. 

Besse, S. B. US Ironclad Virginia, Newport News, Mariner's 
Museum Publication, No. 4, 1937. 

US Ironclad Monitor, ibid. No. 2, 1936. 

Boynton, C. B. A History of the Navy during the Rebellion, 
N.Y., Appleton, 1867-8. 

Chase, S. P. Diary and Correspondence, (Annual Report 
American Historical Association, 1902, vol. 2) Wash., Govt. 
Printing Office, 1903. 

Church, W. C. Life of Ericsson, 2 vols. N.Y., Chas. Scribner's 
Sons, 1906. 

Civil War, Battles and Leaders of, 2 vols. N.Y., Century Co., 

Flower, F. A. Edwin McMasters Stanton, Akron, Saalfield Pub. 
Co., 1905. 

Headley, J. T. The Great Rebellion, vol. i, Hurlbut, Williams 
&Co., 1863. 

Hendrick, B. J. Lincoln's War Cabinet, Boston, Little Brown, 

Kelly, W. D. Lincoln and Stanton, N.Y., Putnam's, 1885. 

Log of the US Ironclad Monitor, Photostats, Navy Archives, 
Wash., D.C. 

Maclay, E. S. Reminiscences of the Old Navy, N.Y. and Lon- 
don, G. P. Putnam, 1898. 

McCartney, C. E. Mr. Lincoln's Advnirals, N.Y., Funk & Wag- 
nail, 1956. 

z 6$ 

i jo Tin Can on a Shingle 

McCordock, R. S. Yankee Cheese Box., Phila., Dorrance & Co., 

Mitchell, Lt. Col. J. B. Decisive Battles of the Civil War, 

Putnam, 1955. 
Nicolay, J. and Hay, J. Abraham Lincoln, vol. 5, Century, 

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies, ser. i, 

vols. 6, 7, 8, 9. 
Parker, Capt. W. H. Recollections of a Naval Officer, 1841- 

65, N. Y., Scribner's, 1883. 
Porter, Adm. D. D. The Naval History of the Civil War, 

N.Y., Sherman Pub. Co., 1886. 

Porter, W. H. A Record of Events in Norfolk Co., Ports- 
mouth, W. A. Fische, 1892. 
Records of the Rebellion, vol. 4. 
Self ridge, T. O. Memoirs, N. Y., Putnam's, 1924. 
Soley, J. R. The Blockade and the Cruisers, Chas. Scribner's 

Sons, 1883. 

U.S. Naval Inst. Proc., vol. 49, 1923. 

Welles, G. S. Diary, 3 vols., Boston, Houghton-MifHin, 1911. 
Wertenbaker, T. J. Norfolk, Historic Southern Port, Durham, 

Duke University Press, 1931. 

Wise, J. S. The End of an Era, Boston, Houghton, 1889. 
Worden, Lt. J. L.; Greene, Lt. S. D. and Ramsay, H. A. The 

Monitor and the Merrimac; Both Sides of the Story, N.Y., 

Harper & Bro., 1922, 

Many other books, as well as periodicals, pamphlets and news- 
paper clippings provided additional sources for Tin Can on 
a Shingle. Some were drawn on extensively; others yielded 
some small, elusive fact. Among these were: Century Mag., 
vols. 8, 9, 29 and the Century War Book, Century Co., 1894; 
Harper's Mag., vols. 25, 26, 27 and Harper' 's Pictorial History 
of the Great Rebellion, 1866; Southern Mag., 1874; Virginia 
Mag. of Hist, and Bio g., vol. 31, 1923; Vanity Fair, 1862, 1863; 
New England Mag,, 1907. 



American Soc. Swed, Eng, 43 

Ar ago, iro 

Astor House, 30 

Bankhead, John Pine, 139-40, 


Barnum, P. X., 140 
Beach Street, 161 
Beaufort, 65, 72 
Blockade, 3, 4-5, 7, 13, 14, 16, 76, 

78, 141-2, 155-6, 164-6 
Brooke, John Mercer, 15-18 
Buchanan, Franklin, 52-5, 64-7, 

70, 72-3, 85, 132-3, 156 
Buchanan, James, 9 
Buchanan, McKean, 73 
Bullock, James, 14 
Bushnell, Cornelius Scranton, 

23-4, 3<> 33-6, 41, 105 
Butts, Francis B., 144-152 

Cape Henry, Va., 7, 72 
Charleston, S. C., 3, in, 141, 155 
Chase, Salmon, P., 80, 124-5, 127, 

134, 136 

Chesapeake Bay, 7, 61 
Color ado j 5 
Columbia, 11 
Confederate Navy, 6, 13 
Confederate Regiments, 129 

Congress, 9, 22, 39, 50, 62-3, 66- 

9, 7i-5, 77, 82, 84 
Craney Island, 51, 64, 131 
Crusader, 4 
Cumberland, n, 39, 63, 65-71, 

82, 84, 98, 158-9 
Currituck, 61 

Dahlgren, John A., 51, 81, 107, 
155; (guns) 9, 17, 21, 27, 37 
Davis, Charles Henry, 22-3, 36 
Davis, Jefferson, 13, in 
Declaration of Paris, 4 
Dolphin, ii 
Dragon, 100 
DuPont, Samuel Francis, 154 

Elworth, Hjalmar, 28, 32 
Ericsson, Amelia, 29-30 
Ericsson, John (1803-1889) 
(biog.), 26-28, 32-3, 161-2; 
(dealings with the Navy) 32, 
105; (inventions), 29, 31, 56-8, 
105, 153-5, 157, 161; (Moni- 
tor) 3, 24-5, 34-42, 44-9, 55, 
92, 104, 106 
Ericsson, Nils, 28 

Farragut, David Glasgow, 156 

Foreign intervention, 85, 117, 


Forrest, French, 16 
Fort Monroe, 7, 8, 38-9, 49, 62, 

66-7, 69, 70, 78, 81, 82, 96, 126 
Fox, Gustavus, 27, 35, 47-8, 60, 

82, 102, 105-6, 27, 113, 120, 

123, 154, 157 
Franklin Street, 30 
Fulton, Robert, 20 
Fulton, 13 

Galena, 24, 34, 126, 137 
Germantown, u 
Gloire, 20, 34 
Goldsborough, Louis M., 39, 50, 

62, 80, 109, 119-20, 126-7, X 3 2 
Gosport, 8-12, 15, 1 8, 51, 127-8 
Greene, George Sears, 43-44 
Greene, Samuel Dana, 43-46, 59, 

60, 87-90, 92-6, 99-102, 139, 

144, 149, 157, 159-160, 167 
Greenpoint, 31, 38-9, 42 
Gregg, Thomas, 19 
Griswold, John, 24, 30, 35, 41, 


Hampton Roads, 4, 7-8, 9, 48, 
50, 61, 62-3, 66, 75, 82, 84-6, 

Hartford, 43, 44 

Hatteras, 140, 145, 163 

Holmes, Oliver Wendell, 104 

Howard, Samuel, 75 

Ironclads, 14-5, 19-24; (Board) 
22, 24, 26, 33, 35-7, 152; (Con- 
federate) 155-6 

Illinois, no 

Isherwood, B. F., 10 

Tin Can on a Shingle 

Jamestovm, 65, 79, 85, 98 
Jeffers, William, 117, 127, 138 
Joinville, Prince de, 166 
Jones, Catesby ap R., 17-8, 45, 

73-4, 85-6, 89, 92-3, 98-9, 115, 

118-19, 130-3, 165 

Knox, Dudley, 156 

Lamb, W. W., 129 

Lawrence, H. K., 108 

Lincoln, Abraham, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 
13, 24-6, 35, 47, 52, 59, 60, 79- 
81, 90, 103, 107, 112-13, 124- 
28, 132, 134-5, 137, 139 

MacNiell, Ben Dixon, 163 
McClellan, George B., 18, 48-9, 

79-80, no-n, 122-4, 126, 131, 

McCauley, Commodore, 10-11, 


Mahan, Alfred T., 44 
Mahone, William, 10 
Mallory, Stephen Russell, 13-18, 

31, 51-2, 54, 115-17, 128 
Marston, John, 62 
Marx, Robert, 163 
Meigs, Quartermaster General, 

Merrvmac ( Virginia ) , 107-11, 

112, 115-16, 122-3, 126-7; 

(Mar. 8) 62-77, 78-81; (Mar. 

9) 84-102; (burning -of ) 130- 

31, 132-3, 135, 152, 164-6; 

conversion of) 15-18, 33-4; 

(launching of) 51; (rumors 

of) 38- 39, 42, 46-7, 50-1, 60; 

(sister ships of) 5; (scuttling 

of) 8-12 


Merrimac men, 53-4, 56-61, 86, 

97* I3I-33 

Miami, 124, 127 

Minnesota, 5, 9, 39, 50, 62, 67, 
69, 72, 74-5, 77, 84-5, 87, 89, 
91, 96-102, 116-17, I3[ 8 I2 ^, 

Mohawk, 4 

Monitor, 3, 4, 8, 15, 1 6, 20-1, 27, 
30, 34-5, 152-56, 164-67; 
(Battle of Mar. 9) 89, 102, 
104, 107, iio-ii, 112-17, 126-8, 
132, 134, 137-40, i4 2 > *43; 
(building of) 38-42; (dimen- 
sions of) 37-38, 56-8; (found- 
ering of) 144-51; (launching 
of) 45-6; (payment for) 37, 
40-1, 105; (trial runs) 47; 
(voyage to Hamp. Rds.) 48- 
9, 56-61, 73, 75-6, 78, 82-3 

Monitor men, 21, 47, 87-8, 120- 
21, 140, 144-51, 158, 160 
monitors, 144, 153-7 

Morris, George U., 67, 70 

Mystic, 62-3, 66, 69 

Napoleon III, 20, 37 
Naugutuck, 117, 119, 126, 165 
National Academy of Science, 

Negroes, 50, 82 

New Ironsides, 23, 24 
Newport News, 8, 39, 62, 63, 

69, 70, 78, 104, 120, 122 
New York, N. Y., 20, 54 
Niagara, 5, 

Nicolay, John, 48-9, 80 
Norfolk, Va., 8, 16, 21, 26, 38, 

50, 64, 74-6, 85, 102, 112; 

(surrender of) 128-30 

Norris, William, 98 

Ocean Queen, no 

Parker, William Harwar, 64 

Paulding, Hiram, n, 22-3, 35, 

37, 48 

Pendergast, George, 73 
Plymouth, n 

Porter, David Dixon, 137, 156 
Porter, John L., 15-18 
Princeton, 31-2, 36 

Raleigh, 65, 72 

Ramsay, H. Ashton, 9, 64-5, 69- 

71, 73, 87, 93, 97-8, 107, 135 
Rhode Island, 117, 142-7, 147, 

149, 150 
Richmond, Va., 14, 17-8, 21, 76, 

124, 142 
Richmond, 118, 128-9, * 38-41* 

. I49 
Rio de Janeiro, 9 

Rip Raps, 8, 120, 126 
Roanoke, 5, 67, 75 
Robinson, George H., 162 
Robins, William, 142 
Rodgers, John, 155 
Rowland, Thomas F., 39, 40 

Secession, 4, 8, 10 

Self ridge, Thomas O., 117 

Seth Low, 6 1 

Sewall's Point, 120, 127-8 

Seward, William H., 35 

Ships-of-the-line, 5, rr 

Smith, Francis Pettit, 20 

Smith, Commodore Joseph, 22, 

35, 41-2, 45-6, 150 
Smith, Joseph, 68, 72 
Soley, James Russell, 164 

Stanton, Edwin McMasters, 51, 
79-81, 105, 107, 109, 122-5, 
127, 131, 134-5 

Stephens, Thomas H., 138 

Stevens, John, 19 

Stimers, Alban C, 9, 59, 87 

Stockton, Robert F., 31 

Stockton, Robert F., 29 

Sweden, 27, 28, 32, 33, 161 

Tattnall, Josiah, 115-120, 130-4 
Teaser, 65, 72 
Tenney, Matthew, 70 
Timby, Theodore, 38 
Trenchard, Stephen Decatur 


Trescott, Peter, 143 
Tyler, John, 3 1 

U.S. Navy, 6, 14-5, 19-24, 40, 
88, 161 

Tin Can on a Shingle 

Vanderbilty 109, 117, 126, 165 
Viele, Egbert L., 125, 129 

Wabash, 5 

Watson, P. H., 109-10 
Wood, John Taylor, 71, 131 
Welles, Gideon, 5, 6, 7, 13, 22- 
241 34 3 6 7 47 5> 53 78-80, 
106-8, 113, 122, 134-5, *5i 
i54> 158 

Williamson, William P., 15-18 
Wilmington, Del., 141-2, 156 
Winslow, John F., 24, 30, 35, 41 
Wise, Henry A., 82, 102-3 
Wool, John E., 8, 79, 109, 128-9 
Worden, John Lorimer, 44-5, 
47, 58-61, 75-6, 80, 88-91, 94-5, 
100-3, r 5-<5 I0 9 112-13, 139, 
155, 158-60, 162, 167 

Yorktown, 65, 72, 79, 85, 98 

\ ( >>;///;; //W from Flttp I ) 

assas, Gaines' Mill, Chickamauga, 
Milledgeville, Appomattox. The his- 
tory of the Civil War rings with their 
names and with the steady beat of 
inarching armies. 

'But one ship and one document were 
to have as much to do with the win- 
ning of that war as any land brigade. 
The ship was the U. S, IroncLu! Moni- 
tor. The document was signed by 
Abraham Lincoln on April I 9th, one 
week after Fort Sumter fell . . ." 

Thus begins this story of the Monitor 
and the Merrin-ittc. President Lincoln's 
"document" carried orders for a block- 
ade of Southern ports- a blockade 
that the .Mcrriti/ac threatened to nul- 
lify, but which the /Monitor, rushed 
to completion in 152 frantic days, 
made a reality. 

Rear Admiral John B. HefTernan, 
U. S. N., (Ret.) Director of Naval 
History in the Navy Department, 
19'16-1956, Secretary of the Naval 
Historical Foundation, says: 

T have just completed a careful read- 
ing of Tin C.ttn On A Shingle, It gives 
the reader a clear understanding of 
the story of the U.S.S. Monitor, and 
presents all the fundamentals with 
historical accuracy. It is interesting 
and well-written/* 

E, p. D? I TON & CO., Inc. 
300 Fourth Ave., N. y. 10 

1 36 266